Congress, NASA

Commercial cargo skepticism and support

Thursday’s hearing of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s space subcommittee on NASA’s commercial cargo efforts did not yield much of the way of new insights or surprises about the program. It did, though, provide an opportunity for some members to express their concern about, if not skepticism regarding, the ability of Orbital Sciences Corporation and SpaceX to carry out on their agreements to transport critical supplies to the ISS.

One theme from the hearing was a perceived lack of information from those companies, and NASA, about their efforts over the last few years. “Congress has generally been supportive of NASA’s commercial cargo efforts, but too often requests for information have been met with a veil of secrecy and claims of company proprietary information,” said subcommittee chairman Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) in his opening statement. “I want to remind NASA and the commercial partners that you are spending taxpayer money, and lots of it, so you will not be exempt from oversight and financial scrutiny.”

Another theme, perhaps more subtle, was that commercial cargo was not a good deal, or least not a good one as other options. Members noted, as did the hearing’s charter, that in contrast to the original $500 million allocated to Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) when the commercial cargo development program started, NASA had spent or obligated through the end of FY2011 over $1.25 billion. That amount includes $288 million in cargo augmentation funding and $466 million from the follow-on Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) cargo delivery contracts. And on several occasions they noted schedule slips from the original COTS awards to both companies.

NASA associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier, along with SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell and Orbital Sciences senior vice president Frank Culbertson, defended the progress they made. Gerstenmaier, for example, said that the augmentation funds added to the COTS awards this fiscal year are for additional testing to help buy down risk (including a test launch of Orbital’s new Taurus 2 rocket) and not because either company had run into problems. “We added these augmentation milestones to help assure where we would be,” he said. “They weren’t absolutely required.”

“The amount of money that has been paid to us on the CRS contract, that has been mentioned several times as ‘extra money’ that’s been sent to the contractors, that’s not the case,” Culbertson said, describing the CRS funds as “milestone payments” for long-lead items and the like common in the commercial world. “It is a commercial endeavor, and not a traditional government cost-plus development. That’s a really big difference from what people are used to and I think some folks in the community might be having trouble understand that.”

Shotwell challenged the price-per-pound figures included in the hearing charter, which claimed that commercial cargo would cost more ($26,700/lb.) than either the shuttle ($21,268) or Progress ($18,149). The charter, she said, used an “erroneous assumption” that SpaceX would transport only 20 metric tons of cargo, the minimum under the NASA contract. SpaceX can take much more than that on the 12 flights in SpaceX’s CRS contract, she said, and “we don’t charge NASA extra for anything above the 20 metric tons.” Depending on the specific cargo carried on each flight, she said, “if we can take the full Falcon 9 performance capability to the ISS, the cost per pound of cargo is under $10,000 per pound.” (According to the SpaceX web site, Dragon can carry 6,000 kilograms to LEO; assuming each of the 12 launches under SpaceX’s $1.6-billion CRS contract is fully packed, that works out to about $10,080 per pound.) In any case, since the various cargoes to be transported will have varying densities, cost per pound may not be the best metric for determining the value of various transportation systems.

While NASA, Orbital, and SpaceX faced scrutiny from many members at the hearing, some were more positive about the effort. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a long-time supporter of commercialization efforts, backed the ongoing COTS/CRS efforts. “If we are indeed gambling on two companies, I think it’s a good bet,” he said. SpaceX in particular got a vote of support from a non-committee member who, in unusual move, formally introduced Shotwell. Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), a freshman member whose district includes SpaceX’s testing facility in McGregor, Texas, said he was “proud” of the company’s efforts. “It is important that we in Congress do all that we can to make sure that we highlight companies such as SpaceX,” he said.

Some members seemed resigned that commercial providers are the only option for maintaining the space station in the years to come. “You have had and will have disappointments,” Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the full committee, said in an opening statement. “Just don’t overpromise us.”

69 comments to Commercial cargo skepticism and support

  • Robert G. Oler

    “Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the full committee, said in an opening statement. “Just don’t overpromise us.”

    something NASA does routinely. RGO

  • Bennett

    Two things. I had to step away from the hearing about halfway through and when I came back I noted that Michael Mealing had tweeted the “Gwynne hit that one out of the park!”. Does anyone recall what that might have been?

    Also, this: Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the full committee, said in an opening statement. “Just don’t overpromise us.”

    Pot, kettle, black.

  • DCSCA

    “Bill Flores (R-TX), a freshman member whose district includes SpaceX’s testing facility in McGregor, Texas, said he was “proud” of the company’s efforts. “It is important that we in Congress do all that we can to make sure that we highlight companies such as SpaceX.”

    Indeed, it helps to highlight firms which consistently fails to live up to its own over-hyped potential. So far, SpaxwX has orbited a wheel of cheese and returned same but in practical terms, have not flown any cargo to the ISS via Dragon. And they have not launched, orbited or returned any crews safely. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

  • Coastal Ron

    “It is a commercial endeavor, and not a traditional government cost-plus development. That’s a really big difference from what people are used to and I think some folks in the community might be having trouble understand that.”

    The “some folks” unfortunately are “some” in Congress, who are too used to the old ways of contracting.

    Some members seemed resigned that commercial providers are the only option for maintaining the space station in the years to come.

    As they should be. It was Michael Griffin’s administration that set up the CRS program to support the ISS from Shuttle program shutdown through the end of the ISS itself (2015 at that time).

    Instead of grumbling about lack of options, which Congress should have realized that when it first appropriated funds for the program years ago, and they should be asking “what do you need from us to ensure the program succeeds?”

    Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the full committee, said in an opening statement. “Just don’t overpromise us.”

    And they haven’t. It’s hard to do that on a milestone program like COTS/CRS, since the only promises are what is contractually agreed to. And if they don’t meet their contract obligations, then they don’t get paid. WHAT A CONCEPT!

  • Scia

    Well at least Congress as a whole is not a problem.

    The interesting thing that I noticed is that the Congressman from Texas talking about being happy about McGregor being is his district.

    Could this be the start of pork money being given to places where it would actually go to good use?

  • red

    Well, I guess we should be glad they had Orbital, SpaceX, and NASA representatives rather than, say, ATK, L-M, and Mike Griffin shaking their heads sagely about what a bad deal they think commercial cargo (I’ll just oversimplify and call it COTS) is. That’s a deck that’s been stacked far too often in these hearings lately.

    There are a lot of factors to consider if the value of the COTS services is going to be compared to Shuttle or Progress. Jeff’s overview mentions one – using the full capability, not a minimal baseline, for the COTS services. Here are some others:

    - Compare “apples to applies” for the amount delivered. Don’t compare the price per pound of a smaller amount delivered for COTS to price per pound of a larger amount delivered for Shuttle. The smaller figure will penalize the COTS service by spreading infrastructure and development costs over fewer pounds. The ISS will need x pounds, whether COTS or Shuttle delivers it. Compare the 2 approaches using the same number of pounds.

    - Factor in the potential down time for Shuttle if an accident occurs. Would Shuttle even be able to recover after a 3rd disaster? Even if it’s a 3 year recovery with no cargo delivered to ISS, that’s a big down side for the Shuttle. A similar accident with a COTS service would most likely be able to recover much more quickly and begin cargo deliveries.

    - Factor in the avoidable loss of life caused if a Shuttle accident occurs during a Shuttle cargo delivery. The COTS services don’t have this drawback.

    - Factor in the cost and time to restart Shuttle capabilities.

    - Factor in the benefit of independent redundant capability that the 2 COTS vendors give. If there are problems with one service for a while, at least the other would still function, delivering ISS cargo during the difficult time.

    - Give apples to apples comparisons for the payload delivered. Don’t count a component of a Shuttle delivery that helps deliver payload as payload itself.

    - Take into account the non-ISS benefit the COTS services give to NASA. For example, the likely future use of Taurus II and/or Falcon 9 for Delta 2 class launch services for NASA Science missions is a big side benefit.

    - Take into account the benefit to the country of having these services (launchers and spacecraft) available for other government uses, commercial uses, increased exports from sale of American services to foreign customers, etc.

    - Take into account that the Shuttle is a mature system, even though we are discouraged from considering it to be operational. The COTS services are new and need to take care of the vendors’ development costs in the early flights. Once those investments are rewarded, it’s likely that COTS costs will go down. We will have to see how the next contract goes. Perhaps some of the CCDEV2 companies or others will try to deliver cargo, too, and increase competition.

    On the plus side for Shuttle, we shouldn’t forget that Shuttle also delivers crew, so a Shuttle mission where the crew transportation is needed in and of itself (rather than just because Shuttle requires crew) represents a kind of 2-for-1 service compared to COTS.

    Another plus for Shuttle is the ability to return large components. I guess it can be debated how much we are likely to need that capability, but it shouldn’t be ignored.

  • I sat through a 100 minutes of recorded testimony this morning. The House committee members really do get “it”. I would be more concerned if some of the concerns voiced were not raised as they are custodians of the public tax; the public welfare. Also pleased to hear the realistic expectation of unanticipated frustration and the coping measures in place. There does seem to be a systemic process moving right along with good governance.

    Looking forward to seeing those met milestones a coming!

  • Doug Lassiter

    DCSCA wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 1:10 pm
    “So far, SpaxwX has orbited a wheel of cheese and returned same but in practical terms, have not flown any cargo to the ISS via Dragon. And they have not launched, orbited or returned any crews safely. ”

    Fair point but, except for using a thirty year old launch vehicle, neither has NASA. Except for the Ares I-X, which did neither, NASA has not built a new launch vehicle in a very long time. NASA is to be commended on a fine HSF operations plan but, for launcher development, SpaceX would seem to have the edge. FWIW, NASA hasn’t even demonstrated any credibility in launching wheels of cheese.

  • DCSCA

    @Doug Lassiter wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    “Fair point but, except for using a thirty year old launch vehicle, neither has NASA. Except for the Ares I-X, which did neither, NASA has not built a new launch vehicle in a very long time.”

    They’ve modified ELVs as mentioned in last weeks’ Senate subcommittee hearing. ‘Age’ really has nothing to do with it- particularly w/ISS LEO operations as it’s a ticket to no place. But the time for talk, at least on cargo hauling, is over. Progress services the ISS and it’s routine. It serviced MIR. Routine. Shuttle works/worked and its service life has come to an end; Soyuz is 40 years old and works. DC-3′s are still flying. As the old VW beetle ad with a LM as art said: “It’s ugly, but it gets you there.” Commerical has to stop stalling and start flying. Failures are to be expected along with the successes. The time is past due for them to put something operational up. So far, it has all be talk.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    @Doug Lassiter wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    “Fair point but, except for using a thirty year old launch vehicle, neither has NASA. Except for the Ares I-X, which did neither, NASA has not built a new launch vehicle in a very long time.”

    you wrote:
    They’ve modified ELVs as mentioned in last weeks’ Senate subcommittee hearing…

    my reply

    no

    Robert G. Oler

  • Doug Lassiter

    DCSCA wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 9:08 pm
    “The time is past due for them to put something operational up. So far, it has all be[en] talk.”

    You’re saying this about commercial? NASA has not designed, built, and flown a new vehicle in a very long time. So far, it has all been talk. But the time for talk, at least on cargo hauling, is over. Let me qualify that and say “economical” cargo hauling.

    In what way is commercial “stalling”? On the time scales that we’re used to for space development, they’ve got their pedal to the metal. Destination? Schedule? Commercial has given that to us. More than NASA is able to provide.

  • Seriously, Commercial Crew is not going to save NASA any money since its going to be utilized supporting an expensive $3 billion a year ISS program that doesn’t need to be extended beyond 2016.

    Furthermore, how is a beyond LEO program for NASA sustainable over the next 20 years under the Obama-Holdren vision of perhaps two visits to an asteroid and perhaps a visit or two to a Martian Moon– even if it were possible without astronauts getting their brains fried by galactic radiation. Over that 20 year period, you’d have one or two years of heavy lift launches dedicated for a beyond LEO missions punctuated by several years of no heavy lift launches at all with NASA launch personal just sitting around for years between missions doing nothing.

  • Terence Clark

    “Failures are to be expected along with the successes. The time is past due for them to put something operational up. So far, it has all be talk.”

    I have a few points here. The first, and by far most important, is that commercial could sit on their hands and do nothing for 4-5 years and still be providing services sooner than any current or past NASA proposal. The only hardware NASA has that could do the job is shuttle, and like it or not, it’s not coming back. Nevermind that it was absurdly expensive to fly in comparison. The only way shuttle could possibly have met the numbers stated (21,000/lb) would be if you included the shuttle itself as part of the cargo number.

    As to the “it’s all been talk” comment, that has been a moving goal post since SpaceX was created in 2002. First everyone in the peanut gallery said they’d never fly a rocket. When Falcon 1 flew, they said F9 would never fly and that Dragon was a pipe dream. Now that they have both flown, and very successfully I might add, it’s now “well they haven’t delivered to the ISS.” When they do that, I guarantee people will be saying “Yeah well they haven’t flown people”. And when they do, critics will be saying “Well they haven’t flown to the moon yet”. I’m not saying the next steps aren’t difficult. And there certainly is no guarantee that they’ll succeed. But it’s annoying how breathtakingly quickly a milestone mere months ago critics were touting as a near impossibility is now being passed off as nothing special in favor of beating them up over the next step.

  • Brad

    Falling behind schedule is the only factual complaint the SpaceX critics have left to offer.

    To the critics I say the 400 million SpaceX has spent on Falcon 9/Dragon has shown greater results than the 5 billion NASA has spent on Orion.

  • Das Boese

    DCSCA wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 9:08 pm#

    ‘Age’ really has nothing to do with it- particularly w/ISS LEO operations as it’s a ticket to no place.

    That doesn’t even make sense. Did you just want an excuse to repeat your tired empty phrase once more?

    But the time for talk, at least on cargo hauling, is over. Progress services the ISS and it’s routine. It serviced MIR. Routine. Shuttle works/worked and its service life has come to an end; Soyuz is 40 years old and works.

    You are, of course, aware of the fact that the Russians have wanted to retire the Soyuz/Progress stack for over a decade, and are now aggressively pursuing the development of a replacement?

    Comparing the reusable orbiters to the expendable Soyuz and Progress spacecraft illustrates your profound lack of insight.

    DC-3′s are still flying.

    Is every DC-3 discarded after one flight? Are new DC-3s being built to replace the ones that are no longer operational?

    As the old VW beetle ad with a LM as art said: “It’s ugly, but it gets you there.”

    After over half a century of production, the venerable Volkswagen eventually ceased production in 2003.

    Commerical has to stop stalling and start flying.

    They’ve been flying for a long time.

    Failures are to be expected along with the successes. The time is past due for them to put something operational up.

    They’ve been doing that, too, for a long time.

    So far, it has all be talk.

    And all you’re doing so far is to repeat the same soundbites over and over and over, ad nauseam. Ticket to no place, tick-tock etc.

    A sort of behaviour that, by the way, is commonly associated with people who cannot cope with reality as a result of rigorous religious or ideological indoctrination.

  • DCSCA

    @Terence Clark wrote @ May 29th, 2011 at 12:21 am

    Goal posts?? You gotta field a team and get some skin in that game before you start crying about moving ‘goal posts.’ SpaceX is still in the locker room. That false equivalency pitch is bogus–doesn’t wash. NASA has been lofting crews for half a century- shuttle flying three decades; Soyuz has been ferrying crews to LEO on various space missions for four decades; it’s routine space operations; Space X has not launched, orbited and safely returned any human crews; Progress has been servicing space station(s) for decades as well– routinely. Space X has not flown any cargo to any space station any place– except perhaps in a Powewpoint presentation. Of course, they did orbit a wheel of cheese. Which leads one to wonder if they consider ISS crews mere ‘lab rats.’ Enough talk. Enough press releases and chatter of ‘retiring on Mars’ by Master Musk. Time for SpaceX to put up or shut-up.

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 11:30 pm
    There are 11 people on orbit now via NASA’s shuttle and Soyuz. And Progress has been hauling cargo for decades. They seem pretty “operational.” ‘Commercial,’ a la Elon, not so much– but then, LEO is a ticket to no place for a space program and for profiteers. ‘Commerical’ has these shiny ‘new’ vehicles, too– going no place fast- to try to ‘service’ a space station which represents past planning and was slated for splash in 2016 by NASA station management less than 24 months ago. Now they’re scrambling to justify the $100+ billion boondoggle – (an expense roughly equal to the cost of 14 aircraft carriers) and operational costs out to 2020 in an era of extreme austerity. Time to get down to business and get something up and operational. Time for some loss leaders, Elon. But then, Tesla has not turned a profit yet either: http://www.pbs.org/nbr/site/onair/…/tesla_ceo_elon_musk_110504/

    Tick-tock, tick-tock.

  • Coastal Ron

    Marcel F. Williams wrote @ May 28th, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Seriously, Commercial Crew is not going to save NASA any money since its going to be utilized supporting an expensive $3 billion a year ISS program that doesn’t need to be extended beyond 2016.

    Yet you advocate that we should end one “expensive” program (ISS), only to replace it with an even MORE expensive program (the Moon). Sounds like hypocrisy to me.

    Over that 20 year period, you’d have one or two years of heavy lift launches dedicated for a beyond LEO missions punctuated by several years of no heavy lift launches at all with NASA launch personal just sitting around for years between missions doing nothing.

    It sounds like you’re realizing what most of us already know, which is that within NASA’s limited budget it won’t be able to afford to use HLV’s much at all, especially if it has to fund major programs (like your lunar one) at the same time. Luckily we don’t need HLV’s to explore, which means we can do more exploration initially WITHOUT HLV’s that we can with them.

    But more intriguing is that you seem to think that the primary goal of NASA is to provide a continuous need for launch vehicles. Maybe you should be a politician, since that’s how many in Congress view NASA, as a reason to spend money in their districts.

  • Rep. Hall bloviated:

    “You have had and will have disappointments. Just don’t overpromise us.”

    You mean like how NASA promised in the early 1970s that Shuttle would fly once a week?!

  • pathfinder_01

    Scia yes that is what is slowly happening. The politics of spaceflight are realigning to a new reality. The old space states want to maintain the old way but it cannot be maintained much longer as the shuttle is retiring and NASA has no new rocket ready to take its place. SLS at the moment may be the law but it is in the planning phase very different from being something actively being built in plants in several states.

  • Vladislaw

    “(According to the SpaceX web site, Dragon can carry 6,000 kilograms to LEO; assuming each of the 12 launches under SpaceX’s $1.6-billion CRS contract is fully packed, that works out to about $10,080 per pound.)”

    It should actually be calculated as pounds of cargo moved. They have 13,000 pounds up cargo and 6600 pounds of down cargo. At 133 mil per flight it works out to 6785 dollars per pound of cargo moved.

  • Doug Lassiter

    DCSCA wrote @ May 29th, 2011 at 2:24 am
    “There are 11 people on orbit now via NASA’s shuttle and Soyuz. And Progress has been hauling cargo for decades. They seem pretty “operational.”

    I believe I congratulated them about their operational prowess. But it’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about launch vehicle development that would bring down the cost to LEO. NASA hasn’t done it. Commercial has.

    LEO might seem to be nowhere, but of course it’s really halfway to anywhere in the solar system. Sort of like saying that New York is nowhere, because it’s only halfway to Cape Cod. In Ares I-X, NASA managed to get up to 46 km. Nowhere near LEO. So Space X’s new architecture, which ended up in orbit, went a lot farther than NASA’s. But here you’ve converted exasperation about space access into exasperation about destinations. Elon has talked about gong to Mars. One would wonder if he’d really be capable of doing that before NASA.

  • Terence Clark

    “Goal posts?? You gotta field a team and get some skin in that game before you start crying about moving ‘goal posts.’ SpaceX is still in the locker room.”

    You should get your own evening talk program. You’re great at manufacturing tag lines without saying anything.

    “That false equivalency pitch is bogus–doesn’t wash. NASA has been lofting crews for half a century- shuttle flying three decades;”

    NASA has been trying to build shuttles successor for decades as well, and has yet to do so. Nevermind that the manufacturer for the Orion, Lockheed, has built precisely the same number of manned spacecraft as SpaceX, 0. And unlike SpaceX, they haven’t yet flown theirs crewed and weren’t set to until 2016 at the earliest. Sorry, it’s not a false equivalency. It’s just an embarrassing one.

    “Soyuz has been ferrying crews to LEO on various space missions for four decades; it’s routine space operations;”

    I wouldn’t be too excited about the fact that they’ve been flying the same craft since Apollo was still flying. Neither would I hold that against a company that has only existed since the Columbia accident.

    “Space X has not flown any cargo to any space station any place– except perhaps in a Powewpoint presentation. Of course, they did orbit a wheel of cheese.”

    Which is one wheel of cheese more than either it’s American or Russian competition. SpaceX is not competing against 1970′s rockets. They are competing against the latest and greatest. In less than 5 years both the US and Russia will be on to the next steps and all that wonderful flight heritage will mean exactly as much as Apollo does today. Your argument is akin to saying the 727 would never fly because the DC-10 was already flying cargo and passengers.

    “Enough press releases and chatter of ‘retiring on Mars’ by Master Musk. Time for SpaceX to put up or shut-up. ”

    What I’m saying is that thus far he has been. And for every real step with real rockets he takes, his critics decide that it was no big deal and move on to the next one. Nevermind that you can count on one hand the number of currently flying spacecraft that have returned cargo, cheese or otherwise. Nevermind that they are competing against national space agencies, and thus far competing well. Clearly since they haven’t built a complete parallel space program largely solo in 9 years, they’re not competition at all. Is that what you’re saying?

  • pathfinder_01

    “Seriously, Commercial Crew is not going to save NASA any money since its going to be utilized supporting an expensive $3 billion a year ISS program that doesn’t need to be extended beyond 2016. “

    Marcel, If you cannot supply a space station in LEO in an economical manner, how do you suppose you will be able to supply a moon base? ISRU can’t take care of all its needs. I mean you can’t ISRU new space suits, repair parts for your ISRU units, ect. You can grow food on the moon, but if you know anything about gardening growing food takes a lot of labor and space and what do you do eat until your crops are ready? Or what do you do if your crops fail? What about food items that are too much of an hassle to grow at a moon base like say Walnuts(big trees that can take years to produce fruit), Pecans, Apples, Oranges, ect? What about meats, and spices? How about medicine? Is it even economical to build a moon base big enough to grow large amounts of crops?

    Remember the bigger the base the more material, electricity, labor to build and labor to keep up it will need and the more it will cost the people of earth.

    Anyway with commercial cargo you could supply any space station in LEO. If you had an electric tug you could use Taurus II and Falcon 9 to supply a moon base. Even without the tug the Falcon 9’s existence makes the Falcon Heavy more economical and you also could supply a moon base with an FH for a lot less that anything Shuttle Derived.

    “Over that 20 year period, you’d have one or two years of heavy lift launches dedicated for a beyond LEO missions punctuated by several years of no heavy lift launches at all with NASA launch personal just sitting around for years between missions doing nothing.”

    Well if you used commercial available rockets that have other users like Falcon 9, Falcon heavy, Delta and Atlas then you can put the NASA personal to work designing and testing BEO payloads without worrying about keeping up the rocket. Also you would need to do test flights as well as missions (i.e. Apollo 7,8,9, and 10 were in preparation for Apollo 11).

    One of the problems with Saturn V and most Shuttle Derived launchers like Ares is that they have no other users. They are too big and costly to be useful to anyone else. Launchers like Falcon Heavy, or the proposed Delta phase I, Atlas Phase I, II, and III can exist in forms that are useful to other customers that way NASA does not need to pay the entire cost to keep the ability to produce the launcher up so long as the smaller versions have customers it is possible to assemble the larger form. Prop depots are another way that launcher size is decoupled from payload size.

  • Frank Glover

    @ Das Boese

    “You are, of course, aware of the fact that the Russians have wanted to retire the Soyuz/Progress stack for over a decade, and are now aggressively pursuing the development of a replacement?”

    Actually, I’ve been waiting for that one for a while, myself. I thought Kliper might be it, but..

  • As I understood Gerstenmaier’s testimony part of the additional $300M requested this year is for thermal vacuum testing of commercial in orbit vehicles. This would seem to sit well with the committee although it clearly should have been budgeted for initially.

    Interesting paper on the topic for newbies like myself:

    THERMAL VACUUM TESTING, Quintero, Welch & Wolf

    Leads me to think this expense should have been anticipated, although again, ultimately unavoidable.

  • Matt Wiser

    pathfinder: would the systems you suggest in your post meet the requirement as laid down in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act for Heavy-Lift? Or would they be considered a medium-lift capability?

    Like it or not, commercial cargo is on its way. Only when they start flying actual missions to ISS will those who have reservations (and I’m one of them) be satisfied. Then start flying people. Only then will the critics be able to say “Good job, you’re living up to what you’ve said you’ll be doing.”

  • BeancounterFromDownunder

    sftommy wrote @ May 29th, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Well no, SpaceX didn’t consider it important enough in their original plan or didn’t think the expense was worth it however NASA wants the additional risk reduction milestones so SpaceX has said, ‘Pay for it’ and so NASA are. Same for Orbital. There’s a number of milestones that have been added together with the additional payments. That’s what the program is about, pay for services. CCDev Program uses the same milestone, skin in the game, philosophy.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Matt Wiser wrote @ May 29th, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    “Like it or not, commercial cargo is on its way. Only when they start flying actual missions to ISS will those who have reservations (and I’m one of them) be satisfied. Then start flying people. Only then will the critics be able to say “Good job, you’re living up to what you’ve said you’ll be doing.”

    odd. what you say is OK on its face…but the odd thing is that you and others never hold NASA programs (Ares, Orion etc) to the same metric. There it is “give them money year after year”

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Terence Clark wrote @ May 29th, 2011 at 10:11 am
    ” Your argument is akin to saying the 727 would never fly because the DC-10 was already flying cargo and passengers.”

    An excellent post which I agree with completely, a minor nit. The “Mighty Trimotor” (the 727) was flying well before the “Death Cruiser” (the DC-10) took to the skies. grin

    Robert G. Oler

  • DCSCA

    @Terence Clark wrote @ May 29th, 2011 at 10:11 am

    “I wouldn’t be too excited about the fact that they’ve been flying the same craft since Apollo was still flying… SpaceX is not competing against 1970′s rockets. They are competing against the latest and greatest.”

    They aren’t competing at all. And if they ever go ‘operational,’ in fact, will be competing against Soyuz/Progress– technology originated in that time frame. “Excited?” They work. And very well- for decades. The objective is to get you there- which they routinely accomplish. SpaceX has yet to demonstrate it can deliver cargo or crew in any ‘operational’ fashion at all.

    “Which is one wheel of cheese more than either it’s American or Russian competition.” Really? How do you know what how much ‘cheese’ has been delivered to the ISS by Soyuz/Progress and/or carried aboard shuttle since ’81? Besides, it may not be needed as there’s plenty up there alreeady–, as Bill Anders wryly noted back in ’68 that the moon was made of ‘American cheese.’

    “Neither would I hold that against a company that has only existed since the Columbia accident.”

    Which, after half a century of HSF operations and 80-plus years of rocket development by humans- should make it all the more easier for SpaceX. Should be faster and easier for them to come on line. It took NASA all of 8 years to ramp up from LEO operations of Mercury & Gemini into Apollo and reach the moon– and they had to invent how to do it. NBC News reported on 5/29 that SpaceX might attempt to fly crews to LEO to the ISS 3 to 4 YEARS from now per the presser- which puts it in the mid-2014/2015 time frame. Pathetic. And NASA ISS management, less than 24 months ago, was planning to splash the ISS in 2016.

    “What I’m saying is that thus far he has been.”

    In fact, he has not. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

    @Doug Lassiter wrote @ May 29th, 2011 at 10:06 am

    “LEO might seem to be nowhere, but of course it’s really halfway to anywhere in the solar system.”

    It was in 1961– it is not in 2011. BEO is. But you go on embracing the belief that going in circles is halfway to anywhere in the solar system– they’d get a laugh at that at JPL– and use that to bolster your position.

    Space exploitation is not space exploration.

    “Elon has talked about gong to Mars.”

    In fact, Master Musk has boasted unrealistically of ‘retiring on Mars’– yet his firm has not launched, orbited and safely returned anybody– and per NBC News won’t attempt it for several years– if at all. Space X is not competing against anyone- because they haven’t orbited anyone. They may eventually haul up cargo– but not crews. The next logical phase of HSF is Branson’ Virgin Galactic enterprise. He’ll fly paying passengers on suborbital jaunts in a year or so.

    @Das Boese wrote @ May 29th, 2011 at 2:21 am

    “…the Russians have wanted to retire the Soyuz/Progress stack for over a decade, and are now aggressively pursuing the development of a replacement?”

    Which continues to fulfill their commitment to maintain the capability of flying humans in space, as they have been doing consistently since April, 1961 with no near-decade-long gaps. (A commitment BTW, through massive changes in their government and society.) They’re still flying Soyuz/Progress and maintaining HSF capability even as they plan upgrades and replacements.

  • pathfinder_01

    Mat the authorization act was about NASA jobs, not the safety of the ISS. If you wanted to back up commercial cargo you would use Delta IV heavy and Orion. Delta IV heavy can lift Orion right now. You do not have to man rate the rocket as it is lifting cargo. Orion masses around 21MT and the newest version of Delta IV heavy can lift 30MT. This cargo mission could be ready by 2013 perhaps no later than 2014 if you started now and could test out Orion unmanned.

    However Delta IV does not use Shuttle workers and thus Congress felt that a government backup to cargo should start in 2016 with a more expensive 70 or 130 ton heavy lift rocket! The other problem is that the per unit cost of Orion and its disposability are big turn offs to the White House. Basically Orion is estimated to cost as much as Dream Chaser per unit and not be reusable! While cargo dragon will be a new capsule for every ISS cargo flight it is cheaper per unit and reusable. Hence why this option gets no traction. Does not save shuttle jobs(Congress) and Orion is too costly(WH).

    ULA offered to man rate Delta IV heavy for Orion for 1.5 billion and it would take 5 years. However it would be something like as low as 300million a flight if NASA bought 9 flights. This Option is cheaper than building the SLS and less likely to go bad. i.e.SLS does not even have all its tooling while Delta IV heavy is in production and just needs to be modified.

    ULA while not as cheap as Orbital or Space X has an excellent record and Delta IV has been launching since 2004 and we use Delta IV heavy to launch payloads that are critical the this nation like spy satelights.
    SLS won’t be ready till 2016(leaving at least a five year gap between commercial cargo and the start of the government owned option). And NASA does not think it will be ready by then either. You also do not need a 70 or 130MT lifter to push a 21MT capsule to the ISS. That is expensive and wasteful.

  • pathfinder_01

    As for how the other systems stack up vs. Authorization act: either 70MT or 130MT(depending)

    Falcon Heavy 53MT, Delta Phase I 45MT, Atlas Phase I 40MT all three options are cheaper than shuttle derived and can lift Orion plus something else. An earth departure stage or lift to a prop depot. You could do L point mission and even lunar landings with multiple launches (2-3 for a landing)(1-2 for a L point mission). Heck you don’t even need to human rate them as you could launch Orion via a man rated Delta V heavy and launch the earth departure stage via them.

    Altas Phase II 70MT. GAO found this option to be a bit more expensive than shuttle derived to develop but much cheaper to operate. So much cheaper that you would make up the developmental difference by the 2nd launch. Augustine likewise thinks this is a cheaper option.

    Atlas Phase III 130MT. This option has not been evaluated but likely still is cheaper per launch than shuttle derived.

    The problem is that the act is worded in such a way as to make this option as unavailable as possible. You must use CXP contracts and shuttle parts to the extent practicable. Who cares if other options are cheaper, more flexible or a better fit in the budget.

    The EELV options have the advantage that NASA HSF isn’t footing the whole bill to keep them in production. With the shuttle NASA pays 4-5 billion a year just to keep the ability to launch it. The EELV can be used by others who don’t need to lift 40+MT in smaller versions. That includes commercial satellite launchers, DOD, and NASA unmanned missions. Congress considers this a bug not a feature since the result would be massive layoffs in the plants that produce shuttle parts.

    However SLS itself lack enough budget to get done and so what you will get in 2016 at best is a HLV and a capsule because you couldn’t afford to develop earth departure stages, landers, or habs and likely not that because SLS does not have enough budget plus NASA’s record of developing new launchers is poor, and they lack the flexibility needed to get any complex program done(i.e Can’t use Aerojet solids over ATK ones). Heck they are so desperate they are thinking of launching it with left over shuttle enigines(cause they can’t afford to start production of new ones).

    In the time the shuttle has flown Delta II, III, IV; Titian IV; Atlas II, III,V; Athena; Pegasus, Minotaur, Taurus; Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 have all been developed(and some of which retired) by industry. Nasa hasn’t developed a rocket since the Shuttle.

  • Coastal Ron

    Matt Wiser wrote @ May 29th, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    would the systems you suggest in your post meet the requirement as laid down in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act for Heavy-Lift? Or would they be considered a medium-lift capability?

    First of all let’s remember that the lift requirements that the Senate bill identified are fictitious. It’s like building a really big truck and hoping that there is a market for it’s unique capacity. So far there are only paper studies that suggest 130 ton payloads will be necessary, but no funded programs that prove a long and sustained need.

    The ULA evolution plan for Atlas & Delta grows capacity abilities by adding CCB/CBC’s to their core rocket module, and they end up in the 100 ton plus capacity range. This allows the same launcher families to support payloads from 10-100t capacities, thus spreading development costs over more launches and more customers.

    And just to make sure we’re using the same vocabulary, here is one definition of lift capacities to LEO:

    Small – less than 2,000kg
    Medium – 2,000 — 10,000kg
    Mid-heavy – 10,000 — 20,000kg
    Heavy – 20,000 — 50,000kg
    Super-heavy – 50,000kg or more

    Atlas V and Falcon 9 are on the low end of the Mid-heavy range, Delta IV Heavy and Atlas Heavy are in the Heavy category, and Falcon Heavy makes it into the Super-heavy category.

    Also, just as a reference, everything that has been designed for the two proposed NASA space exploration architectures, HEFT and Nautilus-X, can fit on existing or near-term launchers (near-term = Atlas Heavy & Falcon Heavy).

    So far the need for a Super-heavy lift vehicle in the 70-130t capacity range has not been characterized or proven.

  • pathfinder_01

    Also to put things in perspective HEFT choose 130MT over 70MT because with 70MT launchers there was -1.15 tons of capacity on one launch and 130MT can do it in three not five launches. However when you look closely there is 40MT worth of unallocated mass in the first launch. This is a packaging problem involving payloads that have not yet been designed or built, not a excuse to go to 130MT and the 1.15MT of mass is on the hab launcher (you could have sent stuff up on the previous launcher that has 40MT of unallocated space).

    They also thought the cost to develop 100MT was a little more than the cost for 70MT however those little extras can add up. You would think that having a program be over budget on paper would be enough to at least force them to choose the cheaper 70MT option but alas it is not. They also don’t consider using commercial launchers for any operations stating that it will need excessive commercial launches (did ULA or Space X or Orbital tell them that they just can’t handle any extra load….no). Also like the ISS delays will easily pile up since all elements must use the same launcher (i.e. less ability to do things in Parallel).

  • Doug Lassiter

    DCSCA wrote some stuff @ May 30th, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Complete agreement about exploitation versus exploration. They’re not the same. But our Congress has largely mandated NASA to do the latter, not the former. So what country, and what space agency, are you talking about?

    BEO is halfway? Nope. It’s LEO. Arthur was right. I can go from EM L1 to the outer solar system with a miniscule delta V. Takes a while, but … JPL folks showed that a decade or two ago (so if they’d be laughing, they’d be doing it proudly).

    As to Musk, let me be clear. I am hardly sold on SpaceX’s ability to do the propulsive things he says they’ll be able to do. But they’re headed in the right direction, meeting significant milestones. I’d like to believe that NASA can do it as well. But the NASA that used to be able to do that kind of thing isn’t around anymore, and their flags are hanging kind of limply in that business.

    Oh my. SpaceX won’t launch anyone for SEVERAL YEARS? What a travesty. NASA isn’t going to be launching anyone for at best five. At least SpaceX is telling us how they’re planning to do it.

  • Matt Wiser

    In case you haven’t noticed, the key congresscritters and Senators on the relevant committees are from “Space States.” And the congresscritters who wrote the 2010 Authorization Act were doing so in a bipartisan manner. If someone like Rohrbacher was Chair of House Science and Technology Committee, your ideas might have a lot more support, as he’d be able to steer legislation in that direction. Instead, you have Ralph Hall, who’s from the Houston area (read: JSC). In the Senate, there’s both Bill Nelson and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (KSC and JSC), Shelby (MSFC), and so on. The Senate chair of Science and Tech is Jay Rockefeller from WV, but he rarely opposes NASA-related legislation. IF, and I do mean if, you had key members on the committees not from “Space States”, you’d have a more receptive congressional audience to the suggestions mentioned above. This was a direct shot at the Obama Administration, and it scored. He signed the 2010 Authorization Act, because he knew that he didn’t have the political capital to fight it, and he also knew the original FY 11 budget-and the supplemental released post-15 Apr, were DOA on The Hill.

    DCSCA is correct: Musk is his own worst enemy. When he boasts about “retiring on Mars,” all that does is give ammunition to his congressional enemies about his being a “wild-eyed rocket hobbyist.” If Boeing or Lockheed-Martin were leading on this, you’d have less opposition or maybe none at all. What Musk needs to do is shut up and let his engineers do their jobs and get hardware flying. WHEN he flies cargo, then crew, he’ll get the congratulations that he will richly deserve. Not before.

  • DPK

    I still can’t believe it’s the conservatives that are cautious about commercial enterprise in space. This whole thing is so weird.

  • Coastal Ron

    Matt Wiser wrote @ May 30th, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    IF, and I do mean if, you had key members on the committees not from “Space States”, you’d have a more receptive congressional audience to the suggestions mentioned above.

    And yet, with all you said, Constellation was cancelled with overwhelming bipartisan support of both houses of Congress.

    What that shows is that when scrutiny is applied, bad programs get cancelled quite easily, regardless if the committee leaders are from “space states”. That only matters for doling out the 0.5% of the budget that NASA gets, and since it’s so small, and the issues are technical above an average persons understanding (including some of those on the NASA committee’s), that those outside of the NASA committees don’t get involved. That’s the way Congress works, not just space-related issues.

    I predict the SLS will go on the chopping block in 2013, regardless who wins the Presidential election, since by then it will have become quite clear that the budget required for the SLS, and the budget required to make payloads for the SLS, will not produce results that increase our HSF progress.

    He signed the 2010 Authorization Act, because he knew that he didn’t have the political capital to fight it

    President Obama signed it because it gave him the majority of what he wanted (i.e. Constellation killed, ISS saved, commercial crew promoted, etc.). That there were issues relating to SLS and MPCV were pretty minor, since those could be changed after a couple of years without too much budget damage. It was a great victory – didn’t you get an invite to the celebration parties? ;-)

    If Boeing or Lockheed-Martin were leading on this…

    And why aren’t they? How come they aren’t the ones lowering the costs to access space? They are actually RAISING prices, not lowering them, so it’s obvious that they see no incentive.

    The reasons boil down to a lack of competition, in that Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which are large publicly traded companies, are economically risk adverse. They do well in well defined markets, but cargo and crew transportation are not well defined markets.

    But once markets are well understood, Boeing and Lockheed Martin will follow, which is good, since competition is good as long as it is open enough and diverse enough. Boeing is already experimenting with this on their CST-100 capsule, but then again Boeing is mainly a commercial company at heart.

    They will follow the market, which isn’t a bad thing. Don’t expect them to lead.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Matt Wiser wrote @ May 30th, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    ” Instead, you have Ralph Hall, who’s from the Houston area (read: JSC).”

    do some research. The TX-4 is no where near Houston. It is just about as far as one can go from Houston and still be in Texas (not exactly but go look). RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    Matt Wiser wrote @ May 30th, 2011 at 10:49 pm
    ” What Musk needs to do is shut up and let his engineers do their jobs and get hardware flying. WHEN he flies cargo, then crew, he’ll get the congratulations that he will richly deserve. Not before.”

    my thoughts about the efforts by the Cx team as well. except all I was asking is “when they fly into space”…12 billion dollars and it never happened.

    can you explain that? Gemini cost 5.5 billion in today’s money, the entire program. CVNX the USS Ford cost 14 billion 9 billion for the research and development of the new class of ships and 5 for the first boat. Orion spent 5 billion on the capsule so far and is no where…can you explain any of that?

    LOL bet you wont even try. I wouldnt either RGO

  • DCSCA

    @DPK wrote @ May 31st, 2011 at 8:48 am
    “I still can’t believe it’s the conservatives that are cautious about commercial enterprise in space.”

    they are profteers, not rocketeers have never led the way in this field. Witness Goddard’s plight, etc., etc. They have always been a follow-along, cashing in where they could after government took the lead. The few smart ones know it’s has minimal ROI limited by the very paramenters of the ‘free market’ it seeks to service w/o government subsidies to socialize the risk on the backs of the many to reward a few. So investors and private capital markets remain wary.

  • Matt Wiser

    Hall may not be from Houston, but he’s ptting Houston’s interests up front as a fellow Texan should. (I’m 1/4 Texan, so I fully understand that)

    Ron: I think our difference here is not whether or not we need heavy-lift (Augustine said we need it, NASA brass agree, even the President’s Science Advisor-somebody who along with Bolden that’s taken a LOT of heat over this program in general), but when. Congress and Augustine say start now. POTUS and Bolden wanted to delay for up to 5 years. Congress said NOW.

    One other thing: a lot of the anger about lost jobs would not be here if the economy was stronger than it is now. Until these commercial companies stand up and start expanding, there’s not much for ex-shuttle employees to go.

    Lastly: Charlie Bolden needs to start putting meat on the bones as far as FlexPath goes. Vague Promises of a NEO by 2025, Possible lunar return by 2030, Mars orbit by 2035 aren’t cutting it. The last House Hearing where Bolden testified got testy when he didn’t get much into specifics. Granted, the HEFT people haven’t come back yet with their report, but at the very least, he needs to start saying more precisely where we’re going, and some idea of when. IF he wants Congress to approve his budget requests.

  • Coastal Ron

    Matt Wiser wrote @ June 1st, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Until these commercial companies stand up and start expanding, there’s not much for ex-shuttle employees to go.

    Which proves the point that Congress looks at the SLS as a jobs program, not because of any perceived need. If they thought it was needed they would be funding a payload for it too. They’re not – they don’t care what it does, as long as it requires people doing it.

    But if the Republicans in Congress were true to their Conservative roots, they would let the market decide what should happen to those Constellation and Shuttle personnel that are losing their jobs, and not use the heavy hand of government to step in and subsidize their employment.

    I think I even heard Sarah Palin say something to that effect yesterday in an interview.

    Charlie Bolden needs to start putting meat on the bones as far as FlexPath goes. Vague Promises of a NEO by 2025, Possible lunar return by 2030, Mars orbit by 2035 aren’t cutting it.

    Two things:

    1. Go back and reread the Augustine final report to become familiar with the philosophy behind Flexible Path. You need to learn about what they think it should do.

    2. You miss the in-between for getting from here to there. We don’t even have a way to get crew into space for an exploration mission, and you’re demanding due dates and details? That was the problem that Constellation developed, and part of the reason why it failed (fake priorities).

    Bolden is focused on what he should be focused, which is the things he can influence near-term, which in this case is the American transportation systems to get us back into space. Without that due dates for NEO’s or Mars orbit are meaningless.

    Besides the HEFT and Nautilus-X NASA studies already address many of the issues required to do exploration at NEO’s and at Mars. Until there is more money in the budget to start building long-duration exploration vehicles (the MPCV duration is only 21 days), fake planning dates don’t do anyone any good.

    Many people have a hard time understanding this, but it’s going to be a while until we’ll be venturing far out into space, especially with the limited budget NASA has to work with. You need to adjust your expectations accordingly, or convince all your friends and neighbors to pay more taxes to bump up NASA’s budget…

  • Coastal Ron

    Matt Wiser wrote @ June 1st, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    One other thing: a lot of the anger about lost jobs would not be here if the economy was stronger than it is now. Until these commercial companies stand up and start expanding, there’s not much for ex-shuttle employees to go.

    As a former manager who has hired quite of few people over three decades, I really have to debate you on this notion you have.

    Until these commercial companies stand up and start expanding…

    Everyone of the companies working on commercial cargo and commercial crew are hiring, and certainly in the case of SpaceX their hiring numbers have doubled over the past year or so. If you look at the SpaceX careers page almost half of the people they need are engineers, so these are good paying positions too.

    But the number of people needed for commercial companies is far less than is needed for government programs, so there is no way there will be a 1-for-1 switch of jobs.

    there’s not much for ex-shuttle employees to go.

    If someone has needed skills and education, then they will be in demand. But if the Shuttle contractor workforce has let their education lapse, or not kept up with the needs of their disciplines, then they have no one to blame but themselves. And if they were in a specialty job like tile fastener or crawler driver, then they should have planned to have a backup set of skills.

    I’m sorry, but I have little sympathy for people that don’t take charge of their own careers. All of the Shuttle workforce has had years to plan for their next jobs, so if they didn’t do anything about it, why should I care?

    If Congress wants to fund a jobs program, then they should call it that and fund on a temporary basis. But let’s not hear whining excuses from people that waited until the last minute to figure out the Shuttle program was going away. Same thing with whining politicians.

    And if you want to talk about anger, then it should my anger at politicians spending my money on $Billion rockets that have no defined or funded need.

  • Matt Wiser

    Ron: I read Augustine, and wasn’t happy with it at first. Only when Ed Crawley and Jeff Greason explained FlexPath did I support it, because they “made the sale.” Bolden is just not a good communicator, and whenever he’s on The Hill, you can see that. That last House Hearing where he was before the full Science and Technology committee (NOT the Space subcommittee) got testy when he was very evasive about lunar return, and these are the members in question he has to get on his side if he wants them to vote in favor of his budget request. They want more information, even if the mission dates are for planning purposes only, and they also want destinations. The members didn’t like what they were hearing when he stuck to NEO and Mars-they clearly want more than that. If you want those members who are sitting on the fence to support what you have in mind, more detailed information needs to be forthcoming. Even if it’s just what’s being talked about for planning purposes-and that caveat should be emphasized.

    I’ll believe Nautilus when I see hardware. Right now, it’s a powerpoint presentation at best. Right now, L-M is proceeding with Orion/MPCV. Want to bet they’ll have test flights on an EELV in the 2014-15 time frame-and with crews? I’ll take that bet. Hab modules for long-duration flights may not be in this year’s budget, but it’ll come down the road: Doug Cooke mentioned that when Orion was announced as the baseline MPCV. And a hab module is cheaper than a lander.

    There’s plenty of anger to go around. Whether it’s Shuttle workers, CxP people still upset that a program they put their heart and soul into for several years got canned, or just plain people upset that there’ll be a gap before another U.S. launched HSF mission flies. And guess who’s getting the blame for it….not Congress, but Charlie Bolden, and by extension, POTUS.

  • Justin Kugler

    Wiser,
    I am a Houstonian born-and-bred. I also work on the space program. Our actual representative in TX-22, Pete Olson, gave up his seat on the Science Committee and has spent more time fighting a losing battle to get a Shuttle sent to Houston than positioning JSC to be at the forefront of NASA’s future.

    With “friends” like him and Hall, we don’t need enemies.

  • Beancounter from Downunder

    Matt Wiser

    One thing about SpaceX is that they aren’t looking for congratulations from anyone. The only thing they’re interested in is developing their product line which is looking pretty good at the moment and building market share which is also doing pretty well. Another commercial contract on the way and either way you cut it, within their current listed price range. No increases unlike the other US launch providers:
    http://www.spacenews.com/satellite_telecom/110531-thaicom-order-sat-orbital-launch-spacex.html

  • DCSCA

    Matt Wiser wrote @ June 1st, 2011 at 1:53 pm
    One other thing: a lot of the anger about lost jobs would not be here if the economy was stronger than it is now. Until these commercial companies stand up and start expanding, there’s not much for ex-shuttle employees to go.

    Well, Matt, they faced a similar ‘gap’ between Apollo and shuttle, albeit this one is shaping up to be a bigger one. However the shuttle workforce has known this was coming for 7 or 8 years now, and even if some reconsideration was in the works, the CAIB report stressed that shuttle would have required a great deal of upgrading to be recertified– and return didn’t justify the costs involved.

    @Coastal Ron wrote @ June 1st, 2011 at 4:52 pm
    “But the number of people needed for commercial companies is far less than is needed for government programs, so there is no way there will be a 1-for-1 switch of jobs.”

    That’s because government space programs are projects of scale and commercial space projects at small firms are not. Any comparison of NASA or DoD space operations to firms like SpaceX is just bogus.

    “But if the Republicans in Congress were true to their Conservative roots, they would let the market decide what should happen to those Constellation and Shuttle personnel that are losing their jobs, and not use the heavy hand of government to step in and subsidize their employment.”

    You mean conservative roots that bail out bank execs, Wall St. firms, auto execs and give tax breaks to oil companies… and ‘private’ rocket firms– all subsidized or seeking it which helps small subcontractors like you. Subsidizing displaced aerospace workers in retraining and such may be a good investment rather than letting them file for unemployment and crater the local economies even more.

    I think I even heard Sarah Palin say something to that effect yesterday in an interview. The extent of Ms. Palin’s knowledge of space can be summed up as follows: “I can see the moon from my house.”

    “Many people have a hard time understanding this, but it’s going to be a while until we’ll be venturing far out into space, especially with the limited budget NASA has to work with.” Nonsense. The Augustine Report noted NASA was underfunded by about $3 billion/yr. or so. The U.S. is spending $1.5/$2 billion per WEEK on the Afghan War alone. Monies could be found to spend on a ‘great new American enterprise’ that invests in Americans and America’s technological future. Just look at these foreign aid stats:

    http://diplopundit.blogspot.com/2010/05/snapshot-top-10-recipients-of-us.html

    “In the FY2011 request, Afghanistan tops the list at nearly $4 billion, followed by Pakistan at $3 billion. This is in addition to significant supplemental funds—$2 billion and $370 million, respectively—requested for these countries for FY2010. Israel and Egypt would continue to receive significant funds, primarily for Foreign Military Financing, at $3 billion and $1.56 billion, respectively. Jordan would also continue to rank high on the list, with $682.7 million requested. Iraq, which dropped out of the top 10 list in FY2010 (though a request for more than $2 billion in FY2010 supplemental funds is pending), would be the fifth largest recipient of aid in FY2011, under the Administration request.”

  • Coastal Ron

    Matt Wiser wrote @ June 1st, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    CxP people still upset that a program they put their heart and soul into for several years got canned

    Oh, please. Stop the violins!

    If they didn’t have a passion for their jobs, then they didn’t care what job they had (i.e. CxP, McDonalds, etc.).

    If they DID have passion for their job, and passion for space, then they would have figured out how what other companies they could join to continue their passion.

    This is life Matt. Jobs end, sometimes suddenly, and it’s not the governments job to be your career counselor and fairy godmother. If Congress wants to allocate some money to assist people with retraining or unemployment benefits, that’s their decision, but doing it by funding a program that has no long-term funded need is not the right way.

    MPCV has some marginal useful purpose, but not as an exploration vehicle (it will support larger exploration vehicles). The SLS has no long-term need, only wishes from unfunded dreams.

    I’ll believe Nautilus when I see hardware.?

    I’ll believe SLS when I see hardware. Remember Ares I never demonstrated any flight hardware in flight, and I suspect the same will happen with the SLS. It’s a jobs program, and if it were to actually fly, Congress will be surprised and have to scramble to make work for it.

    Hab modules for long-duration flights may not be in this year’s budget, but it’ll come down the road

    We already have hab modules, and they don’t require the SLS. What will the SLS be used for, that only the SLS can launch? That is the question. So far it has gone unanswered by everyone, including you.

  • common sense

    The end of SLS…

    http://nasawatch.com/archives/2011/06/senators-come-o.html

    Our next episode: The end of MPCV.

    Oh well…

  • Coastal Ron

    common sense wrote @ June 2nd, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    The end of SLS…

    I wondered if anyone was going to step forward and challenge this process.

    Aerojet, which is headquartered in California, may have had a hand to play in this, since they’ve been making noises about wanted to compete against ATK for the SRM portion of the SLS.

    Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) is also headquartered in California, but they were already locked in with either the SSME or RS-68, so I don’t see them behind this.

    Also, it would be a stretch to think that SpaceX would be putting any significant pressure behind this, but it doesn’t hurt them if others are carrying the water.

    Our next episode: The end of MPCV.

    I could be wrong, but I think we would have heard something from Boeing by now if they wanted to challenge who builds the MPCV. I think they are the only American manufacturer that could convincingly compete for it at this point.

    Glad you pointed this out.

  • Martijn Meijering

    I think they are the only American manufacturer that could convincingly compete for it at this point.

    Why not SpaceX too? Or Northrop Grumman?

  • Matt Wiser

    Dismissing the anger that folks who worked on CxP and Shuttle have is not a good way to get them to support your ideas, and certainly not a way to get their Congresscritters to vote for your proposals. Why do you think Congress directed NASA to use as much CxP and Shuttle derived hardware in the new program? It maintains the workforce as much as possible, maintains the industrial base (ATK, for example), and is one of the options that Augustine presented-either a Ares V Lite or a Shuttle-derived system for HLV. What has more political support these days in the key House and Senate commitees, hmm? SLS does. Keep that in mind, people. Either convince the key committee members that there’s another way forward, or get out of the way, to paraphrase Lee Iacocca.

    I for one do not worship Space X. Are they a player? Certainly. But Musk is not the Messiah for HSF, and he is his own worst enemy. That “Retiring on Mars” drivel he spouted will come back to haunt him. The man thinks he’s Wernher von Braun. Which he ain’t. When Chairman Hall holds the hearings that he’s said he will, with Musk as a witness, those will be interesting.

    I agree with DCSCA: if we can fund the Afghan War, we can find the money to get NASA on track, get MPCV and SLS funded so that they fly, and start exploring.

  • DCSCA

    @Beancounter from Downunder wrote @ June 2nd, 2011 at 4:32 am

    “One thing about SpaceX is that they aren’t looking for congratulations from anyone.” They prefer government subsidies from everyone instead.

  • Coastal Ron

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ June 2nd, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Why not SpaceX too? Or Northrop Grumman?

    Good question. Sure they both could, but this is what I was thinking:

    SpaceX – Building the MPCV would be outside their core product line, and not really central to the transportation mission that Musk talked about. Could they staff up to bid it? Yes, but it would be a huge effort, and the danger would be that they lose focus while making Falcon 9 and Dragon operational.

    Northrop Grumman – If you look at their website, the only flight hardware they are building is UAV’s, but otherwise they are into electronic systems or doing system integration type stuff. They could also bid, but I don’t see it as part of a current core business group.

    You could probably also add Orbital Sciences and Sierra Nevada Corp. to the two above, but I don’t think they would have any better chance. As of right now, it seems like Boeing and LM are the two top flight hardware designer/manufacturers in the U.S. That’s industry consolidation for you.

  • Martijn Meijering

    if we can fund the Afghan War, we can find the money to get NASA on track, get MPCV and SLS funded so that they fly, and start exploring.

    We can start exploring a lot more quickly and more cheaply with existing launchers and commercial capsules and you know it. What we need is a spacecraft, not more launchers.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Building the MPCV would be outside their core product line, and not really central to the transportation mission that Musk talked about.

    Why couldn’t a properly modified Dragon be the MPCV? And would it even need many modifications? And all that is assuming NASA needs to have a dedicated deep space capsule at all. I believe we agree the MPCV should be more like a hab (Bigelow?) than a capsule.

  • Coastal Ron

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ June 3rd, 2011 at 9:27 am

    I’m taking these out of your original order:

    I believe we agree the MPCV should be more like a hab (Bigelow?) than a capsule.

    Yes. The Orion/MPCV represents a lack of vision for future needs.

    Why couldn’t a properly modified Dragon be the MPCV? And would it even need many modifications?

    Great questions that take time and money to determine, and even more time and money if you want to mount a bid, and then you have to scale up to actually build the program if you win.

    Because of the MPCV’s lack of mission and lack of capabilities (only 21 day duration), I don’t know how many will eventually be built. If it were a lot, then maybe SpaceX would see where their vertical integration methods could be a competitive advantage, but vertical integration does not work on limited production.

    For instance a SpaceX MPCV program would require far more outsourcing, which means SpaceX would have to beef up their engineering, procurement and quality departments specifically for that program. It would essentially become the MPCV division within SpaceX, which wouldn’t be related to any other work.

    I’m just thinking back to my defense contractor days, and I don’t see where it would make sense for SpaceX to go in that direction. As I mentioned before, it’s not part of the core business that Musk has said he wants for SpaceX, which is to be a transportation company. The MPCV is more of a specialty vehicle, and better left to companies that specialize in that type of work.

    The other option is to use the Dragon as-is, or with small modifications. Capsules in general are really only needed if you need to return to a planet with an atmosphere, so other than being used for lifeboat duty, I think their need will be limited once we start doing lots of stuff in space.

    My $0.02

  • Martijn Meijering

    We’re drifting off-topic, but I’m enjoying our conversation, so let’s do it anyway. :-)

    The MPCV is more of a specialty vehicle, and better left to companies that specialize in that type of work.

    You mean if it is steered in the hab direction? In that case Bigelow would be a more plausible supplier. But I’m not at all opposed to NASA spending money on a deep space spaceship, as long as they don’t do it instead of establishing a propellant launch market or if they delay it as a consequence. And as long as they don’t reinvent what doesn’t need to be reinvented such as capsules (Dragon / CST-100) or habs (Bigelow).

    so other than being used for lifeboat duty, I think their need will be limited once we start doing lots of stuff in space.

    Sure, but that’s a crucial role. A slightly modified Dragon ought to suffice.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Matt Wiser wrote @ June 1st, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    “Hall may not be from Houston, but he’s ptting Houston’s interests up front as a fellow Texan should. (I’m 1/4 Texan, so I fully understand that)”

    nonsense. you are not a Texan unless you live in Texas. I was born in Texas, grew up in Texas and even though a good chunk of my adult life was overseas…I am a Texan; I have direct relatives whose names are on the wall at San Jac. Dont lecture me on what is good for TX.

    What Hall is standing up for (as is the rep in TX22) are their campaign contributions. Otherwise they wouldnt know space policy if it hit them on the head (neither would the turd in TX022) RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ June 3rd, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    We’re drifting off-topic, but I’m enjoying our conversation, so let’s do it anyway.

    Discuss, debate and learn, that’s why I spend time here, and I think you’re bringing up good questions.

    You mean if it is steered in the hab direction?

    No I was thinking if someone wanted to take away the MPCV contract from LM and still build the same old capsule.

    In that case Bigelow would be a more plausible supplier.

    Agreed.

    But I’m not at all opposed to NASA spending money on a deep space spaceship, as long as they don’t do it instead of establishing a propellant launch market or if they delay it as a consequence. And as long as they don’t reinvent what doesn’t need to be reinvented such as capsules (Dragon / CST-100) or habs (Bigelow).

    What I would really love is a NASA sponsored gathering of industry and academia to develop a roadmap for the general transportation side of space exploration, and would cover payloads, resupply cargo and people. This would include delivering people, payloads and cargo to the surface of all planned destinations (Moon, NEO’s & Mars).

    So far NASA has done some forward looking planning (HEFT & Nautilus-X), but there is no roadmap for the entire industry to get behind. Industries like predictability, because that lets them understand their risks and opportunities better.

    Your promotion of a propellant marketplace fits in with that, as I would hope that the standards are defined for the interfaces and communications so that we don’t end up with a hodge-podge of different ones in space (i.e. I have an Exxon fuel transfer adapter, so I can’t get fuel from the Shell station).

    Regarding Dragon, I think it’s good enough basic transportation for the near-term, and since it has a huge amount of trunk payload space, I think the real limits would be based more on how many days X number of people can tolerate each other inside the capsule. I imagine the rule of thumb would be one day for seven people, longer than seven days for one person – something like that. But generally only used when you are coming from or journeying back to Earth.

  • common sense

    @ Coastal Ron wrote @ June 2nd, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    “I could be wrong, but I think we would have heard something from Boeing by now if they wanted to challenge who builds the MPCV. I think they are the only American manufacturer that could convincingly compete for it at this point.”

    Maybe, maybe not. Or maybe you could assume that 1) Boeing in Houston won a CCDev contract or 2) Boeing in Huntington Beach might look for work and we haven’t really heard anything just yet… or maybe 3) that MPCV actually is dead and that Boeing will not commit any resource to this scam. I don’t know. MPCV will not be any way. I believe you could argue the same for SLS and we could just let it die. But you need to remember that the real cash lies with the LV in this business, not the capsule. Remember also that Boeing had the 2nd stage of Ares and yet they competed for CCDev, that must mean something…

    “Glad you pointed this out.”

    You’re welcome but it really is nasawatch.com that did…

  • common sense

    @ Robert G. Oler wrote @ June 3rd, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    “nonsense. you are not a Texan unless you live in Texas. I was born in Texas, grew up in Texas and even though a good chunk of my adult life was overseas…I am a Texan; I have direct relatives whose names are on the wall at San Jac. Dont lecture me on what is good for TX.”

    I could not help but smile at the 1/4 Texan thing. I lived in Houston for sometime and indeed if you are not living in TX you certainly are not a Texan. Some even argue that Houston is not in TX.

    There is a book that gives a glimpse I believe in that being a Texan thing: Texas, James Michener.

    Wonder if my time spent there makes me a Texan as well?

    Oh well…

  • Coastal Ron

    common sense wrote @ June 3rd, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    or maybe 3) that MPCV actually is dead and that Boeing will not commit any resource to this scam.

    I think there is a 50% chance that the MPCV will become operational – better than that for a test flight.

    Boeing has a number of challenges in their non-commercial business areas, and I think they see the CST-100 as an area where they can be one of the first into a new market.

    My guess is that Boeing also sees the MPCV as a pure custom-build contract for NASA, and that after the recent NASA announcement about the MPCV specs lining up substantially with the Orion specs, that a challenge would have a limited chance to succeed.

    But you need to remember that the real cash lies with the LV in this business, not the capsule.

    $Billions are $Billions, so if they thought they could get a billion dollar contract, they would go for it. They don’t care whether it has a use, they only care that the customer will pay them.

    The SLS situation is getting interesting now. Before I would have given the program a 30% chance of becoming operational, but if they do compete the contract, I think the percentage may actually go up, not down. Still won’t make it anymore useful.

    You’re welcome but it really is nasawatch.com that did…

    There are only so many hours in the day, and I don’t read NASAWatch.com. Thanks for spreading the word.

  • common sense

    @ Coastal Ron wrote @ June 3rd, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    If Boeing thinks that MPCV/Orion is dead they will not bid for zombie program. It takes millions of dollars to run a counter bid and Boeing already obviously lost quite a few on the CEV proposal possibly $Ms on Ares and on CEV where they did have some work. If they don’t go after it and yet they go after CCDev, believe me it is because they know something. Or they believe they know something. Who do you think is running CCDev at Boeing? Inquire and the truth shall set you free… ;)

    In the same vein, it is not true that $Bs are $Bs. I don’t know how I could convince you of it but it has to do with the company’s capabilities and business plan including the reporting to shareholders. Boeing is public. Yes they care the customers will pay them indeed and maybe, just maybe, they think or know the customer will not pay and they will end up with a workforce they will have to feed on their profit (indirect) or, well, lay off. Even a large defense contractor has some sort of reputation to defend or people, the best people, may just no go work for them anymore. You better believe this. Ever had a manager with all the cash you did not want to work for, no matter the cash?

  • Coastal Ron

    common sense wrote @ June 4th, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    I don’t know how I could convince you of it but it has to do with the company’s capabilities and business plan including the reporting to shareholders.

    I’ve worked for a number of government contractors, some the largest in their field (or just the largest, period), with part of my time in management working daily with the program managers, who are the ones with P&L responsibility. The MPCV has enthusiastic supporters in Congress, and it’s just space hardware, not some sort of questionable tools of war, so there is nothing to be controversial about when bidding for the work.

    Boeing is public. Yes they care the customers will pay them indeed and maybe, just maybe, they think or know the customer will not pay and they will end up with a workforce they will have to feed on their profit (indirect) or, well, lay off.

    As long as the government signs the contract, and the company does the prescribed work, then the government will pay. That’s why everyone loves government work. Sure programs get cancelled, but that is less of a problem with large companies than with small – at one company I worked at, we just called it “looking for coverage” (i.e. finding another program to join). I guess I’ve experienced this too much to get excited.

    Even a large defense contractor has some sort of reputation to defend or people, the best people, may just no go work for them anymore. You better believe this.

    Remember we’re just talking about space hardware that may or may not be the right design for our future needs, not cluster bombs that look like toys. The reputation issue is not based on one contract, but more on the perception of the opportunities that the company holds for current and potential employees. I’ve worked for companies that were the hot spot to work, and I’ve worked for companies that were “not exciting” (that was the largest DoD contractor at the time).

    The MPCV contract is not going to taint anyone, since it’s how well they do their individual jobs that is most important.

    That’s my experience anyways…

  • Martijn Meijering

    The MPCV contract is not going to taint anyone, since it’s how well they do their individual jobs that is most important.

    Except for high level management positions if it fails. Running Constellation into the ground doesn’t look good on Griffin’s resume, but individual workers cannot be blamed.

  • Coastal Ron

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ June 5th, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Running Constellation into the ground doesn’t look good on Griffin’s resume, but individual workers cannot be blamed.

    Griffin was the customer. The LM execs get graded on meeting their revenue goals, regardless the public chatter of whether a government contract is worthwhile or not.

  • common sense

    @ Coastal Ron wrote @ June 5th, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    ” The LM execs get graded on meeting their revenue goals, regardless the public chatter of whether a government contract is worthwhile or not.”

    I believe it is slightly more subtle than that, e.g. revolving doors…

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