Congress, NASA

Commercial cargo hearing today

The space subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is holding a hearing this morning on NASA’s commercial ISS cargo program. The hearing will feature executives from Orbital Sciences and SpaceX, the two companies developing cargo vehicles to transport cargo to and from the station, as well as a Government Accountability Office (GAO) official and Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations.

The hearing’s charter suggests that the subcommittee will be taking a critical look at the progress the two companies have made. “To date NASA has spent over $1.25 Billion on the Commercial Cargo effort without accomplishing a demonstration to the ISS,” the charter claims. That figure appears to include all FY2011 funding (which presumably has not been completely spent yet), including $466 million in Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract funding to support future cargo missions and $288 million in “Cargo Augmentation” included for FY11 to provide additional milestones for the two companies under their Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) awards. The charter is critical of schedule delays in the development of Orbital’s Taurus 2/Cygnus and SpaceX’s Falcon 9/Dragon systems that led NASA to seek the augmentation funding as well as procure the CRS before any COTS demo flights. The charter also argues that the commercial vehicles will have a much higher cost per pound of cargo to the station: $26,770 per pound under the CRS contract versus $21,268/lb. for the shuttle and $18,149/lb. for the Russian Progress. (Those figures appear to be based on the minimum mass contracted under the CRS awards; those per-pound costs could be significantly lower if the contracted flights are fully loaded at the same price.)

58 comments to Commercial cargo hearing today

  • Well, we all knew the bogus Lexington Institute study was written to serve someone’s agenda. Today’s the day that card gets played.

  • Edgar

    The numbers being used by the committee are incorrect at face value, as well as placed out of the necessary context. On calculating the correct values, you would have to be clear about the “usable” payload in the calculation, thus including all costs to get that usable payload.

    So, on the first point for example, on a Shuttle flight the “cargo” calculation would only be what’s in the bay, and the crew and everything else to get that “usable payload” would be over in the “costs” side of the ledger. If running the calculation for crew, the inverse would be so. If running a total calculation then you would have to estimate what the commercial crew costs will come in at, combine them with the commercial cargo costs, and compare that against the entire cargo/crew capability of Shuttle.

    On the second point about context, any dollars per pound calculation would have to take into account the total spent over the years. Any Shuttle values of the costs in dollars per pound of usable payload can only be had to NASA by spending the entire years fixed costs plus any flights marginal (or variable) costs. Then over 5 years let’s say, through the 2015 run for the commercial cargo contracts, that would be the “total”. The same would apply to the commercial cargo (and later the crew) contracts. (This is the real driver BTW behind supporting the ISS this way, being able to buy by the yard, solely because there is only so much total budget anyway. Volume buying, or discounts, or technical gains in efficiency through scale do not matter, because you lack the budget to take advantage of that effect.)

    So let’s do some math-

    At the time of award, NASA has ordered eight flights valued at about $1.9 billion from Orbital and 12 flights valued at about $1.6 billion from Space-X.
    -i.e.,

    $238M each for OSC CRS launches

    $133M each for Space-X launches

    These fixed-price indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts will begin Jan. 1, 2009, and are effective through Dec. 31, 2016. The contracts each call for the delivery of a minimum of 20 metric tons of up-mass cargo to the space station.

    -i.e., 20mt each provider means 40mt over the LIFE of the contract.
    Calculating cost per USABLE pound – (not the TOTAL pounds to LEO, which would include their spacecraft).

    -20mt for OSC means 44,000 lbs, which over 8 flights means on average 5,500 lbs per launch, meaning $43,000/usable lb

    -20mt for Space-X means 44,000 lbs, which over 12 flights means on average 3,666 lbs per launch, meaning $36,000/usable lb

    In practice a Falcon 9, for example, has a “payload” capability to ISS of 8,500 kg (18,739 lbs). So the price at $133M a launch comes to $7,097 per pound (but noting that they are providing in this contract part of that payload per se to house the customers payload, by providing the Dragon spacecraft, as well as emplacing/integrating the customers actual payload, the ISS supplies per se).

    The total cost for the commercial cargo to ISS, the 40 metric tons spread over an approximate time period of 5 years, comes to $3.5B. Should this become 6 years the format of the contracts means the costs would still be $3.5B total.

    Now the 40 metric tons (being about 88,000 lbs), if using the Shuttle, could be thought of as about 3 flights. Here numerous ways of thinking this through come to mind.

    One way of thinking is to take the entire amount up in one year on Shuttles. Putting aside the goods may not be needed, or have a certain shelf life, or needing the ability to meet an unexpected need years down, – putting aside all that – the cost would be about $3.5B total then, for that 40mt. This is the same amount as the commercial cargo contracts, but in this case to run the Shuttle a few more flights for one more year. So by this thinking there is no difference between the commercial cargo flights and the Shuttle for a fixed payload mass (except in those items we just said to put aside).

    Another way of thinking about this is to stuff more in the Shuttle year of the previous scenario. This could be a 4th flight at nearly the same $3.5B, immediately making the denominator of “pounds” larger, so the Shuttle dollars per pound would look much better than the commercial cargo contracts. The same would apply to a 5th Shuttle flight etc.

    Then there is another way of doing this – spread a Shuttle flight here or there over the 5 years that ISS needs some response when cargo is required. Comparing then, the dollars per pound for commercial would look much better than Shuttle, as $17.5B for the Shuttle’s 40 metric tons would not compare well to $3.5B for the same amount using the commercial cargo contracts.

    Lastly, the reality is the total amount over the 5 years in terms of money is the driver. The payload was worked into this as some bare minimum consistent with some money that could be foreseen to be available.

    So you see, the charter numbers of the committee do not stand up to simple math and facts on the ground.

    On the side note that some committee members feel this money comes out of what used to be Constellation, realize that Constellation had a chance to perform this cargo to ISS function and keep the money. In early Constellation planning the Orion Ares I would have been ready by about 2012 to start supporting ISS, keeping these funds. By the time (years ago) it became clear the Orion Ares I would not be ready till 2016 at the earliest, the agency leadership was forced to find a US set of players to complement the up-mass needed to ISS in addition to the Russian, Japanese and European capabilities. Alternatives do not exist for the agency but to take this risk.

    While it might be said that more money would resolve this, it would be a challenge for anyone to describe a scenario under which the amounts of money needed in many alternate scenarios would actually develop both bi-partisan support, as well as satisfying all external stakeholders to avoid in-efficient rear guard fighting (effective enough to undo any bi-partisan support). This was all rather inevitable in this sense, once Constellation could not deliver an interim capability, caught up in believing ISS would somehow solve their own problem. It’s one big family. And the reality is all the agency and stakeholder parts have to live together.

  • Coastal Ron

    I’ll expand on what Edgar wrote.

    The Shuttle costs quoted are far too low.

    The Shuttle uses the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) to resupply the ISS, which has a capacity of 9,000 kg (19,842 lbs). Using the $21,268/lb number quoted, that would mean that they estimate a cost of $422M for each Shuttle flight.

    We know the actual number is around $1.2B over the life of the program, or $1.5B if you add in the original Shuttle development costs. So the real $/lb work out to be $60,478/lb for the Shuttle.

    Just for fun, let’s see what they are saying the cost of the Russian Progress is. The Progress can purportedly carry 5,200 kg of payload (11,464 lbs), and they claim it costs $18,149/lb, so that would work out to $208,060/flight. Interesting.

    OSC is being paid $238M/flight for their Cygnus spacecraft under the initial CRS contract, and Cygnus can carry 2,000 kg of payload. SpaceX is being paid $133M/flight for their Dragon spacecraft, which can carry 6,000 kg of payload.

  • mr. mark

    In reality, although there still is only shuttle flight left, the program has been terminated so comparing COTS to the Shuttle serves no purpose. The shuttle is no longer a vehicle at least after July. It’s like comparing Mercury to Apollo it serves no purpose in the real world as neither vehicle exists anymore. We need to start moving beyond the Shuttle to what’s here now. The Shuttle in the near term won’t be here. COTS will be the only thing flying in about 2 months.

  • Edgar

    I see where a representative during the committee session is focused on Shuttle comparisons.

    mr. mark – while correct that a decision has already been made, it’s worth pointing out that the ISS commercial cargo approach, if someone were to want to do something else, is also a bit like a Jenga game. It’s all connected, and one part being pulled might make a broader plan fall apart.

    Pull out the 2 US commercial cargo providers (or any future ones that might win this or crew business as it all evolves), and then ask “and how do we support ISS with cargo and then crew”? if your answer is “the Shuttle” then draw up the budget to keep the Shuttle and then ask “and how much money is left for beyond earth orbit exploration?”. I believe you’ll discover the answer is near zero.

    And we are back to 1997 as far as human spaceflight budget splits. Human spaceflight would be ISS, Shuttle, (both as recurring production/operations), some Shuttle upgrades (having made a decision to keep the system you’ll need to plan for some investment as obsolescence, etc arises) and some odds and ends.

    The odds and ends won’t be much as the budget now is going down relative to the purchasing power of the late 90′s. Back then there was room for some initiatives (like X-vehicles, or the space launch initiative, or next gen technology, etc). These odds and ends would be a shadow of their former self given current and projected budgets.

    This is something Constellation never understood, this zero sum game linked to likely budget scenarios ahead that are not very rosy. More generally, it’s something the planning (to date) in general has failed to address for adding the beyond earth orbit role to NASA’s plate.

  • SpaceColonizer

    Those numbers were totally fudged and manipulated to make a bogus argument. Somebody needs to be embarrassed/fired.

  • Bill Hensley

    According to the published specs from their respective vendors, Cygnus has a maximum payload of 2700 kg and Dragon’s maximum is 6000 kg. That works out to about $40,000 per pound for Cygnus and $10,000 per pound for Dragon. Maximum Shuttle payload to ISS is 16,000 kg. Calling each flight a nice, round $1 billion gives about $28,400 per pound. If it is carrying the MPLM, which has a mass of about 4100 kg this reduces the net payload and results in about $38,200 per pound.

    In reality, none of these vehicles would ever likely carry their maximum rated payload, but I think it’s the most relevant yardstick. By this measure, Cygnus is fairly competitive with the Shuttle and Dragon is cheaper. Of course, that doesn’t include other factors, like downmass (Cygnus has none) or maximum size of an individual payload item (Shuttle has them both beat by a mile).

    Bottom line: you couldn’t build the space station with Dragon and Cygnus, but having completed construction you can support it fairly well, and reasonably competitively, with these vehicles. The only real drawback, as everybody knows very well, is that you won’t be able to use the COTS vehicles to replace any major assembly if that should be required. This may ultimately be what limits the life of the station, but keeping Shuttle alive for this reason would be prohibitively expensive.

  • mr. mark

    True, but you can resupply ISS modules using the Delta 4 Heavy and the upcoming Falcon 9 Heavy. In truth, the shuttle was really never needed, the US could have continued with the Saturn launch vehicle and used the Apollo command module for astronaut transport. We chose to go a different way gambling on a shuttle program tht never really delivered the launch rate and flight savings promised. Wirh Apollo and the Saturn program continued we could have built the station and continued to have access to LEO and BEO. We chose not to and it has cost us greatly.

  • The only real drawback, as everybody knows very well, is that you won’t be able to use the COTS vehicles to replace any major assembly if that should be required. This may ultimately be what limits the life of the station, but keeping Shuttle alive for this reason would be prohibitively expensive.

    It wouldn’t cost that much to convert a Dragon to an orbital tug that could go out and grapple large items tossed up on an Atlas or Delta, and bring them back to ISS.

  • Bill Hensley

    Actually, the Cygnus is already architected to permit development of a tug, since the service module and pressurized cargo module are distinct elements. The service module would only need minor modifications to become a tug, I would think. But that’s beyond the scope of the current COTS/CRS agreements, so I didn’t consider it in my comparison.

  • Bill Hensley

    Not as far as I know, but it doesn’t have to be just to use Delta IV or Falcon Heavy to bring a new module to the ISS. You would launch it with the payload and deorbit it when you’re done, just like Cygnus.

  • pathfinder_01

    Bill:

    “Bottom line: you couldn’t build the space station with Dragon and Cygnus, but having completed construction you can support it fairly well, and reasonably competitively, with these vehicles. The only real drawback, as everybody knows very well, is that you won’t be able to use the COTS vehicles to replace any major assembly if that should be required. This may ultimately be what limits the life of the station, but keeping Shuttle alive for this reason would be prohibitively expensive.”

    Actually there is an unpressurized version of cgynus based on the express logictics carrier. It could carry something up to 18.1meters cubed in volume and 2MT in mass. HTV can also carry upressuzied payload but only 1.5MT. You can’t build a space station via commercial cargo in the same way you could the ISS via the shuttle, but you could do some heavy repair.

  • Coastal Ron

    The Dragon spacecraft does have 14m3 of unpressurized cargo space (10m3 pressurized), so it can bring up some exterior supplies and equipment.

    Beyond that, the creation of a standard tug module (like the OSC Cygnus service module) solves this problem going forward.

    The point of the false Congressional Shuttle payload numbers is curious. They obviously know that it is far too late to resurrect the Shuttle program, so what is their goal in making up fictitious numbers to try and make commercial cargo look bad?

    If they wanted to cancel the CRS program, the ISS could not be fully used. The MPCV doesn’t replace commercial cargo, and using the SLS/MPCV to resupply the ISS would cost $Billions more and won’t be ready in time. Is the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics preparing an argument to end the ISS?

    Considering that the prices for the next CRS contract will likely fall, it’s not clear what the narrative is that the committee is trying to make create.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ pathfinder_01,

    Bigelow Aerospace’s plans show it is at least hypothetically possible to build space stations larger than ISS with just EELV-class launch vehicles and 5m payload fairings. As you point out, it is also possible to carry out all but the most extreme repairs using components lifted using similar vehicles.

    It is a mistake to consider ISS as the only way to build large space complexes. The Russians did it another way (Mir) and others are planning to do it in a similar way to the Russians. It just requires a different methodology and design approach. Neither approach is inheritly ‘better’, IMO, they just start from a different set of technical assumptions and basic available space launch and assembly capabilities.

  • libs0n

    The comparison, even based upon their own numbers, doesn’t tell the whole story. Commercial Resupply Services(CRS) offers a lower total yearly program cost than the Shuttle:

    CRS: 5 years, 3.5 billion total, ~700 million a year

    Shuttle: 5 years, 15 billion total, 3000 million a year

    That means you can use the difference to build exploration systems.

    If Shuttle had to live on 700 million a year, it would deliver zero cargo, for a price per pound of infinity.

    If each CRS provider was being procured at the same rate as they project for Shuttle, 64mt a year, not 8mt, then the per pound cost would be less, since program costs would be spread over more missions. If the Shuttle was servicing only 8mt of demand a year, its per pound costs would be higher.

    CRS also offers a redundant domestic supply line, considered an important issue post-Columbia.

  • You would launch it with the payload and deorbit it when you’re done, just like Cygnus.

    Yes, but it’s wasteful. I think there’s a market for a reusable tug based at ISS.

  • pathfinder_01

    “One way of thinking is to take the entire amount up in one year on Shuttles. Putting aside the goods may not be needed, or have a certain shelf life, or needing the ability to meet an unexpected need years down, – putting aside all that – the cost would be about $3.5B total then, for that 40mt. This is the same amount as the commercial cargo contracts, but in this case to run the Shuttle a few more flights for one more year. So by this thinking there is no difference between the commercial cargo flights and the Shuttle for a fixed payload mass (except in those items we just said to put aside).”

    Actually there were plans to have about 4 flights per year to the station of the shuttle when it was complete. You need to rotate crew and having a year’s worth of cargo is a pain….i.e. I don’t think Bill would like wearing Sally’s uniforms even worse what does Bobby do when he is Sally’s replacement and he runs out of clean underwear…… Smaller more frequent shipments allow you to send fresh fruit and other time sensitive items to the crew. Allows you to send repair parts. Allows you to send new experiments and send materials for different experiments based on results. You also still need garbage disposal the shuttle provide this via the MPLM taking it down).

    Also the MPLM only holds about 9MT and the most it carried via MPLM was about 8MT. So the totals in your calculations are off. So it comes to 4 shuttle flight carring 3 ISS person crew and 9MT and still paying for a crew escape veichile via Soyuz and probably using 1 Soyuz flight for crew anyway.

    Or 4 cargo flights a year 2 dragon, 2 Cygnus. Dragon can bring up 6MT and take down 3MT. Cygnus can carry up 2-2.7MT and handle bulkier items and dispose of 1MT of garbage plus 4 flights of commercial crew. In the case of cargo volume is often more a problem than mass (i.e. food and water are bulky items not heavy items).

    So that comes to :
    2(238) for Orbital=$476 million
    2(133) for Space x=$276 Million
    Or 752 million for a year’s worth of cargo with no shuttle fixed cost of rougly 4-5 billion a year.

    2 (Commercail crew flights…cost unknown at the moment but let’s say worse case is 400 million worth of fixed cost plus lets say the per seat cost is $129 million a seat the Aerospace’s Studie’s worse case scenario…and if any seats are sold to others the scenario gets better) comes to around 1.4 billion. The study only assumes 2 flights so I can’t assume 4 but I doubt it would double with 4.

    Total cost to NASA around 1.9 billion dollars. Total cost rougly 2.billion a year vs. 4-5 billion a year wither the shuttle flies or not. The shuttle costs like $200 million a month just to keep up!

  • Robert G. Oler

    Personal note: I will be on Channel 2 KPRC Houston at 1700 News as an aviation safety expert. I consult with them on Aviation and Space related matters.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Vladislaw

    Coastal Ron wrote:

    “They obviously know that it is far too late to resurrect the Shuttle program, so what is their goal in making up fictitious numbers to try and make commercial cargo look bad?”

    Because if the shuttle was cheaper than commercial then gosh, anything shuttle derived is cheaper than commercial also.

  • SpaceColonizer

    I wonder if any “Not meant to be a factual statement” statements will being floating around any time soon. Doubtful since noone pays attention to space policy. This morning’s hearing wasn’t even on C-SPAN. Shouldn’t something like this be illegal? For public representatives to slander private companies with obvious falsehoods?

  • Bennett

    pathfinder_01 wrote @ May 26th, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Total cost (commercial crew and cargo to the ISS) roughly 2.billion a year vs. 4-5 billion a year whether the shuttle flies or not. The shuttle costs like $200 million a month just to keep up!”

    Ah, the final distillation.

    Thanks.

  • Vladislaw

    “The charter is critical of schedule delays in the development of Orbital’s Taurus 2/Cygnus and SpaceX’s Falcon 9/Dragon systems that led NASA to seek the augmentation funding as well as procure the CRS before any COTS demo flights.”

    It was not the delays of the commercial firms that led to the augmentation funding, according to one of the panelists. COTS was to be plan B with the Ares I – orion as the initial plan A. When those two kept falling farther and farther behind schedule and finally were moving towards cancelation plan B was moved up to the plan A systems. NASA, seeing how the importance of COTS was increasing for resupply decided to add some more tests/milestones to gain an increased confidence level and more risk mitagation. Neither company needed those funds they said to move towards their demostration launches.

    So the charter is mistaken in that assessment.

  • Justin Kugler

    This hearing was a political hit job, plain and simple.

  • DCSCA

    @Rand Simberg wrote @ May 26th, 2011 at 2:05 pm
    “It wouldn’t cost that much to convert a Dragon to an orbital tug that could go out and grapple large items tossed up on an Atlas or Delta, and bring them back to ISS.” More puffery; more pronises; more press releases; more shilling… yet SpaceX has yet to orbit anybody. It would cost even less to turn it into a cheese box or a fish tank. Getting it turned into a man-rated, safe, reliable space capsule to carry humans into orbit and safely back is a much more expensive matter. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

  • Justin Kugler wrote:

    This hearing was a political hit job, plain and simple.

    Which we knew going in.

    But in the long run, it’s largely meaningless. There isn’t much these porkers can do to stop CCDev. They might slow it down. But the genie is out of the bottle.

    What’s particularly interesting is how vicious and desperate have become those trying to perpetuate the government monopoly. Which suggests to me that SpaceX and the others are for real when they say they can radically reduce the cost of access to LEO.

  • More puffery; more pronises; more press releases; more shilling… yet SpaceX has yet to orbit anybody. It would cost even less to turn it into a cheese box or a fish tank. Getting it turned into a man-rated, safe, reliable space capsule to carry humans into orbit and safely back is a much more expensive matter. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

    And who are you shilling for? LockMart, ATK, what?

    Elon’s been on your hit list for a while. You obviously don’t think commercial is cheaper and think NASA should have exclusivity to the Solar System.

    Your government only access to space meme is weak, in spite of this obvious political BS going on.

  • Me

    The above post is just plain idiotic. Use of Dragon as a tug had nothing to do with man rating or a manned vehicle.
    It is no more than a biased post by a uninformed outsider with an agenda.

  • Which suggests to me that SpaceX and the others are for real when they say they can radically reduce the cost of access to LEO.

    This meme is strong and is inevitable.

    Totally agree Stephen.

  • Dennis Berube

    How long will the Russian side of the ISS keep the commercial sector, refering to SpaceX from linking up to the station?

  • Coastal Ron

    Dennis Berube wrote @ May 27th, 2011 at 11:40 am

    How long will the Russian side of the ISS keep the commercial sector, refering to SpaceX from linking up to the station?

    Why are you only focused on SpaceX? Orbital plans to dock with the ISS in early 2012, just a couple of months after SpaceX is planning if they combine COTS flights #2 & 3. There is even a chance that Orbital could beat SpaceX if you consider normal program issues that can pop up.

    The Russians haven’t said “Nyet”, all they have said is that want to review the safety side of things before they give their blessing’s to commercial ships docking. Whether they can keep NASA approved contractors from docking with the American side of the ISS in any case has not been stated, and it’s kind of premature.

    You have to remember that the Russians are pretty media savvy, and their announcement, while understandable as a partner in the ISS, was most likely a bit of hand-waving to make sure everyone remembers they are still there.

    I see this as a non-issue.

  • Ferris Valyn

    Although they were attempting a hit job (which is clear) they so botched it that I think it really made the members of Congress looked stupid. Honestly, I would’ve been embarrassed to be a part of that hearing.

    I am not really a fan of the tea party people, but I tend to agree with this take on yesterday’s hearing

    That charter was an embarrassment, and the hearing wasn’t much better.

  • Robert G. Oler

    dad2059 wrote @ May 27th, 2011 at 9:50 am

    We are in my view seeing a few “last stands” made as the start of the fall of the military industrial complex (and the political foundation which has supported it…the right wing of the GOP)..

    At some point in the near future we are going to see the end of the notion of “cost plus” contracts and are going to head back to the notion of defense and other companies having to put some real dollars from themselves into the game …along with more realistic notions of what these vehicles do.

    It is not just the Cx\Ares fiasco, but things on a much larger scale…the F-35 for instance. In my view the F-35′s only victory as a fighter is that it is going to take down the incestuous relationship between the DoD and the contractors…it is just to expensive and to underperforming and now lacks a real rationale to continue.

    none of this would be a factor except for the money issue with the federal government.

    Robert G. Oler

  • amightywind

    F-35′s only victory as a fighter is that it is going to take down the incestuous relationship between the DoD and the contractors

    The F-35 will be dragged over the line in some form. The ultimate example of requirements creep. Not really the same as Ares because their functions were smartly divided. It will survive politically because China is testing a stealth fighter.

  • @ Robert G. Oler wrote @ May 27th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I dunno, I don’t see the military-industrial-congressional-complex dying that easily.

    Expect much blood and sharks feeding.

  • common sense

    @ Robert G. Oler wrote @ May 27th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    That is a strong statement you make.

    I would tend to agree to the effect that the complex was mostly born out of the world wars and the cold war. Since there is no such threat anymore (despite the claims of some) in the end it may indeed just disappear.

    But considering our political system I also suspect it will reemerge in a different shape, for example based on medical services.

    Of course if the “forces of the dark” have their say then we might find another supreme enemy.

    The coming years are going to be testing for the USA a lot more than any individual CxP or F-35. You’ll see. I just hope that the foundation work that this WH seems to have put in place will survive and get improved by subsequent WH. Congress though by their constituency will take a lot longer to adapt.

    The end of the political-military-industrial complex, maybe but it’ll take a while and will require the absence of any stupidity to engage in military conflicts. It will also require a push outside of the need for oil. So, several things need to happen before its end.

    We shall see.

  • John Malkin

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ May 27th, 2011 at 7:21 am

    What’s particularly interesting is how vicious and desperate have become those trying to perpetuate the government monopoly. Which suggests to me that SpaceX and the others are for real when they say they can radically reduce the cost of access to LEO.

    Yes and SpaceX said they can do it with or without NASA/Government. Don’t worry about China beating NASA to the moon but SpaceX. Priceless.

    I agree. BTW, how many times did jobs come up? And Orbital saying I would love to hire everyone BUT then I wouldn’t have the money to be profitable.

    Congress has to show they care about jobs but the American tax payer and Congress need cheaper access to space.

    I also liked they kept asking “How much more money?” and the Answer being zero over and over again. Ask that to ATK or Lockheed for ISS resupply. Commercial contribute $1 to 2+ per $1 American tax dollar for development, what a deal!

  • Robert Oler is correct in the sense that we are seeing a change in the economic and business models used to contract with DoD. However, his continuous diatribes of blaming this all on right wing GOP types is folly. When you go behind closed doors you see plenty of “lefties” supporting the complex. Especially when they have offices and factories in their districts.

    Sure, they will talk a good game. However, when the earmarks and funding is coming in, they make a speech blasting the military, “hold their noses”, and vote for it.

    //break break//

    The charter was a debacle. The numbers were complete fabrication. If I were to submit paperwork like that I would be fired. Immediately.

    Thank God for Orbital. Thank God for ULA. Thank God for SpaceX. Because when America realizes how broke NASA really is, these three companies will help the United States “weather the storm”.

    Respectfully,
    Andrew Gasser
    TEA Party in Space

  • Robert G. Oler

    common sense wrote @ May 27th, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    “I would tend to agree to the effect that the complex was mostly born out of the world wars and the cold war. Since there is no such threat anymore (despite the claims of some) in the end it may indeed just disappear. ”

    Ike in his farewell speech, a speech that most of the “hawks” today simply ignore warned of the problems of “perpetual war” which he saw the “cold war” forming…but even then the “MIC” was manageable UNTIL the nation started deficit spending.

    It is hard to imagine now but the calling card of the GOP USE to be balanced budgets.

    When Ike was POTUS I think it was on the occassion of Lunik 2 photographing the far side of the Moon, when asked if he was interested in the US doing the same thing, he noted something like “Yes, but not at the risk of deficit spending”. This is in an era when tax rages son the UBER rich were 90 something percent. Now no one paid that much due to deductions etc…

    Even JFK PAID for the lunar effort (which consumed large amounts of money)…when the GOP became addicted to deficit spending in the Ronaldus the Great years THEN ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. In the era before deficit spending the F-35 would not be tolerated because no one would want to pay for something that wasnt working, they needed something that would work for the dollars.

    The GOP today is not interested in balanced budgets…they claim that because thats what gets them support from their base…but if they were then they would couple up the spending cuts with revenue increases (revenue enhancers…thats what RWR called them) and would come up with plans that balance the budget before 2030..

    it is possible Clinton (and to some extent the GOP congress of that era) did it. But the motto of the GOP today is funnel money to the corporations…

    and that is the most obscene derivation of the MIC. Hence Wind’s statement of the F35 “limp over” because of the supposed Chinese stealth fighter (what a fracken joke). The notion is that something anything can justify military or in our case space spending because it feeds money to the corporations AND satisfies the rhetoric of the GOP Base.

    I think we might have started to turn the corner on this. Much as tail gunner Joe went to far when he attacked the Army; the GOP and its propaganda machine might have just gone to far when they engaged Medicare, which is a very popular program. it has not hurt that a lot of things that they support (including space spending) has so badly performed.

    Cx never had to perform…there was always more money next year and the date it did anything could always (like the space station) slip.

    I am so hopeful that Sarah Palin runs and even hopeful that she gets the nomination for the GOP. She could be the perfect Joan of Arc, the perfect sacrifice on which the right wing of the GOP runs as hard as it can, goes as nutty as it possibly can…and when they lose, that will flush them for a generation. Sort of the 1964 AuH2O of our time.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Andrew Gasser wrote @ May 27th, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    “Robert Oler is correct in the sense that we are seeing a change in the economic and business models used to contract with DoD. However, his continuous diatribes of blaming this all on right wing GOP types is folly.”

    I dont blame ANY of the change in the economic and business models used to contract with the DoD or NASA on the GOP particularly the right wing. The GOP and the right wing of it would be pleased to continue with cost plus contracts building one uber weapon (or project) after another.

    I think what you meant to say or claim is this “However, his continuous diatribes of blaming the current state of affairs all on the right wing GOP types is folly.”

    is that more correct?

    If so then you are wrong or at best half right. It is about like the Iraq war. Yes a lot of Democrats voted for the goofy endeavor (or endeavour…grin) but the affair never would have come up for a VOTE or would have been in the public arena had Bush the last never brought it up…and all the people making goofy statements about Iraq (the war pays for itself, we know where the WMD is, wars over in 6 months…50,000 troops tops) were all folks from the GOP. Yes Dems went along but it was the “Neocon” wing of the GOP who brought the entire thing up.

    Dems vote for bad space spending or bad military spending or even bad spending, that is in their district…but most members of the GOP VOTE FOR IT even when it is not in their district.

    Not a single solitary part of the “second engine for the F-35″ (a pork effort in all events) is made in TX-22…but the rep here goes around banging the drum for it as hard as he can; because to his base that paints him as “pro defense”.

    Most if not all space spending is supported entirely by “space Congress people”..regardless of party when it is done in their district and it doesnt matter that the reason cited are goofy. Go find the real “bangers” for space spending who do not have a lo t of space spending in their districts and they are (mostly) GOP and mostly GOP right wing people. To them it is all about appealing to a base that is mostly ignorant of reality. The people for whom one can say “if we dont go back to the Moon the Chinese will take it over” and they go “RIGHT ON” (or whatever the goofy right wing saying is).

    Robert G. Oler

  • Dave Huntsman

    There isn’t much these porkers can do to stop CCDev. They might slow it down. But the genie is out of the bottle.

    That’s not true. There is a legitimate reason to be concerned that what I’ll call the ‘status quo’ forces have been quietly putting enough roadblocks in place to, effectively, kill the truly competitive commercial aspect of the program. If enough requirements are put in place, and enough folks inside NASA – many of them opposed to the program – have to legally sign off on each major phase, then it is likely that within 2-3 years we’ll find ourselves with only one company selected under this ‘commercial’ program. NASA will then be dependent on a single source, and will then insist on even greater control; leading eventually to a standard cost-plus contract where NASA assumes all the risk. There will still be “Commercial” in the name, but it will be a standard, cost-plus, single-source, government-controlled program all the same – with all that that implies. Higher prices, no competition, no economic sustainability – and no enabling the expansion of future human space efforts.

    It is not too late to avoid that scenario. In fact, the single most important decision on the future of commercial crew is about to be made by NASA: who will be the permanent head of the Commercial Space Development Division. If a strong manager who believes in the program is appointed, then the dark future I paint above will, I’m confident, be avoided. If, on the other hand, a weaker, inexperienced manager is selected – or one beholden to what I’ve called the ‘status quo’ forces – then it means the decision will essentially have been made to follow the path I note that effectively neuters the program over the next couple of years, all while pretending to follow it.

    We’re at a true turning point for whether the jump-starting of an American-led, competitive, sustainable commercial space effort will happen in these coming weeks. Let’s hope the right decision is made.

  • common sense

    @ Andrew Gasser wrote @ May 27th, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Well Andrew, so far the Tea Party still has a lot to show. I said before and say it again after reading the Tea Party in Space website that, at least when I did last read it, that I agreed with you. But you are not out of the hood just yet. And if the Tea Party does not come up with a strong, smart, educated candidate for 2012 and not some over achieving show business person then you are not any better than either the GOP, right wing or not, or the Dems, left wing or not.

    I agree that the Dems are equally to blame though in this game of budget, suffice to see Sen. Nelson’s attitude. But it is the previous WH, and to some extent the Clinton WH, that put us in this debacle. Clinton removed some safeguards and Bush, well, used it with the success we know. On space though, it is this WH that is actually doing something, anything. Not a GOP WH.

    Now I believe that this WH came to power by claiming there is “no red state, no blue state, only the United States of America”, or something close. Yet the GOP has tried all it could to stop the WH from doing its job. Now of course the Dems did not help either. Suffice to see the support for the health care reform from the Dems.

    The people of the USA voted en masse for Obama for a single payer for health care, to end the war, to unite the country. Congress as a whole, on the other hand, worked en masse to stop its rightful mandate. Do you see anything wrong with this picture?

    So, Tea Party what is it going to be? The people of the USA want(ed) Obama, the people of the USA cannot stand its Congress people anymore. They don’t think they are represented properly anyway.

    What can you do? What are you going to do?

    Please don’t give me a $71B cut in the budget. We need reform, tough and ruthless reform. We need a single payer. We need corporations to pay their taxes in the US. We need to decrease the stronghold of the US Congress by those corporations (military, pharmacy, you-name-it). We need Congress to represent the people of the USA, the people!

    Again, what is it going to be?…

  • Much as tail gunner Joe went to far when he attacked the Army; the GOP and its propaganda machine might have just gone to far when they engaged Medicare, which is a very popular program.

    Someone has to engage Medicare, it’s going broke. Or were you unaware of that?

  • Dave, do you know who the candidates are, and the odds? Charlie’s unwillingness to replace Ed Weiler doesn’t encourage me.

  • DCSCA

    @dad2059 wrote @ May 27th, 2011 at 7:56 am
    “Elon’s been on your hit list for a while.” Inaccuate. So has NASA for incompetence. Still, when you boast of retiring on Mars (Mars, Pennsylvania is more likely) the criticism for failing to deliver is well earned. SpaceX has not launched, orbited and safely returned anybody from space aboard their capsule. Elon’s banging his own drum and marching in place. He’s going on place fast. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

  • vulture4

    I’ve personally walked, climbed or crawled along most of the launch processing flows. I’ve seen most of the launch vehicles. SpaceX has a coherent engineering vision and business plan that I just haven’t seen before, and the most efficient prelaunch flow at the Cape. Every previous program has either been a converted missile, a hodge-podge of existing and new components, or a NASA system with no commercial prospects. Musk understands the enormous cost of outsourcing and organizational interfaces, and has done everything critical in-house. He was able to develop the first completely new RP/LOX engine in the US since the F-1, and the Merlin 2, which may eventually replace it, is (distantly) derived from the F-1. He understands that solids are cheap to develop but expensive to operate, and has avoided them. He understands that LH2 upper stages are not of much benefit unless one is going beyond LEO, and has stuck with RP/LOX, simplifying launch processing. He understands that redundancy adds weight and cost, often with no improvement in reliability, and that it is better to achieve reliability through simplicity and thorough testing of the design and components. We have seen perhaps five actual commercial launches from US soil in the last ten years, Musk has a dozen on his manifest. He can hire the best people for salaries that are only average, because top people know that even if there are two or three failures during the first few launches, which he readily admits may occur, ultimately he is going to succeed.

  • Facts Ma'am

    Thank God!

    Science and technology and great minds had nothing to do with it, clearly.

  • DCSCA

    vulture4 wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 9:31 am
    Yet Musk flies nobody. He understands how to issue press releases and how to wrangle government subsidies. Meanwhile, Branson is moving commerical HSF forward. Tick tock, tick tock.

  • mr. mark

    DCSCA, You keep talking about manned spaceflight. The Topic of this is unmanned cargo, not manned. Spacex clearly stated that they can’t fly manned flights until 2014-15. Last time I checked it was 2011so, please get in your way back machine and get with the present. Insisting as to why Spacex is not flying manned spaceflight now is complete insanity on your part. Your complete madness has blinded you to reality. Commercial cargo will fly soon enough. It is not 2015. When it is and Spacex has you say will not be flying manned flights you can then moan all you want till them stop your banter.

  • Coastal Ron

    mr. mark wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Insisting as to why Spacex is not flying manned spaceflight now is complete insanity on your part.

    That’s not unusual for him.

  • DCSCA

    @mr. mark wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Actually, they are related as part of the ‘cargo’ SpaceX is supposed to eventually haul up to the ISS aboard Dragons are ‘human crews.’ So far, SpaceX has orbited a wheel of cheese and returned same but in practical terms, have not flown any cargo to the ISS via Dragon– except in a Powerpoint presentation. Meanwhile Soyuz ferries crews and Progress supplies and been doing so successfully to various space stations for decades. And to date, Space X not launched, orbited or returned any crews safely.

    @ Coastal Ron wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 9:56 pm: Tick-tock, tick-tock.

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA wrote @ May 29th, 2011 at 4:30 am

    Tick-tock, tick-tock.

    You may think of this phrase as time passing by, but I’ve come to think of it as a countdown timer until you change goals again.

    You’ve done it more than once, including after SpaceX orbited and retrieved their Dragon capsule.

    Soon your refrain will be “but SpaceX has orbited no one around Pluto, NO ONE… ;-)

  • Dave Huntsman

    do you know who the candidates are, and the odds? Charlie’s unwillingness to replace Ed Weiler doesn’t encourage me.

    Since it is an SES position, only the Selecting Official knows whom he’s seriously considering among whomever applied.

    The single greatest mistake of this Administration vis a vis the radical change in direction of America’s space efforts, is that it has attempted to implement that change while keeping just about every single legacy manager in place who believed in the old paradigms. I can’t imagine a new Board of Directors hiring a new CEO, telling him to implement a 90 degree change of direction in the company – and then expect that two years later not a single legacy manager would have been changed out. Yet that’s what’s happened here – with negative results that are there, but not yet fully visible.

    As I noted, though, vis a vis commercial space, it is NOT too late – but only if a strong, experienced and dedicated person is put at the helm of commercial space development at HQ.

  • Bennett

    “Meanwhile, Branson is moving commerical HSF forward. Tick tock, tick tock.”

    If Branson is your pick for “how it gets done”, why aren’t you moaning about how he doesn’t have an engine for his suborbital craft yet?

    Tick tock, tick tock. VG is having engine problems while SpaceX orbits the Dragon.

    Does it sting yet? I’ll check back in December and we’ll compare notes.

    Me? I want them both to succeed, but then I am not blinded by a bizarre mental problem with one of the companies.

    All of the companies contributing to non-governmental space flight deserve our support. Why don’t you understand that?

  • vulture4

    Dave Huntsman wrote “The single greatest mistake of this Administration vis a vis the radical change in direction of America’s space efforts, is that it has attempted to implement that change while keeping just about every single legacy manager in place who believed in the old paradigms.”

    Interesting point. This may explain why even though Constellation has officially been cancelled, in practical terms it has just morphed into the Orion/HLLV program with no mission but almost the same budget, freezing out anything productive. What I still cannot understand is why NASA was so ready to pull the plug on Shuttle when it was finally working fairly well and we had nothing to replace it with. What were we thinking?

    As to the engine on the SSII, it was one of Rutan’s few errors. Hybrids simply do not make sense for any reusable system. To minimize operating cost he needs to go with LOX/RP like everyone else.

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    vulture4 wrote @ May 30th, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Rutan’s retired and no longer in the picture. Plenty in NASA should have gone long before Burt. Pity.

  • DCSCA

    Coastal Ron wrote @ May 29th, 2011 at 12:37 pm
    Inaccurate. As usual. The only people talking about changing goal posts are Musketeers who’ve yet to get any skin in the game. NBC News has reported SpaceX may try to orbit crews in 3-4 YEARS, if then. Tick-tock, tick-tock indeed. How’s that retirement condo on Mars going for Master Musk.

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA wrote @ June 3rd, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    As usual you keep proving my point every time you post something about your “arch nemesis” Elon Musk (who doesn’t even know you exist).

    First you say:

    The only people talking about changing goal posts are Musketeers who’ve yet to get any skin in the game.

    Then you say:

    NBC News has reported SpaceX may try to orbit crews in 3-4 YEARS, if then.

    You make this seem like a big surprise, but the only surprise is that you think this is a surprise.

    If you were capable of understanding information (instead of having it fed to you by 2nd hand news sources), you would know that SpaceX has never announced it was going to create a crew system ahead of the NASA CCDev program. In fact Musk has always said that they intend to wait on their crew system until they get more experience with the CRS deliveries.

    Of course your ability to be clueless about simply facts is definitely no surprise. Oh sure you can cite book and verse from moldy Apollo manuals, and try to correct people about arcane statements made 60 years ago, but all that does is reinforce the perception that you’re out of touch with today’s reality. A situation you still have time to change…. tick, tock, tick, tock

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