Congress, NASA, Other

Briefly: SLS commentary, Garn on commercial spaceflight

In a followup to the reaction to last week’s SLS announcement, four members of Houston’s congressional delegation portrayed the decision as a “new era of space exploration” in an op-ed Tuesday in the Houston Chronicle. (As of this writing, the op-ed is illustrated with a photo of Paul Krugman. Go figure.) The members, Democrats Al Green and Gene Green and Republicans John Culberson and Pete Olson, claim credit for proposing a compromise last year that they say has now been adopted with the release of the SLS design. However, they’re looking for more, including goals that are “beyond vague statements about missions to asteroids and Mars in time frames that are too distant or undefined” and, not surprisingly, the use of “the talent, resources and facilities that we have in Houston instead of reinventing the wheel in some other area.”

An editorial by the Orlando Sentinel over the weekend, though, is less celebratory and more cautionary, comparing the SLS to the “Hail Mary pass in football — a last-chance bid for success.” The editorial is concerned that funding will not be available for the SLS at projected levels given the current zeal to cut federal spending, and that even if the money is available, the program won’t be able to stay on budget. “[I]f the space agency’s new program runs into the kind of problems that doomed Constellation, the nation might have no choice but to turn to the private sector. This could be NASA’s last chance.”

Speaking of the private sector, commercial human spaceflight got an endorsement of sorts from retired Utah senator Jake Garn in a speech at Utah State University, according to a report in the university newspaper. “It’s not going to be economically feasible for several years at a minimum. But it will become so,” he said of commercial spaceflight, adding that he believes that “the government and NASA” will help support its development. He added that he was opposed to ending the Space Shuttle program before a replacement vehicle was ready.

72 comments to Briefly: SLS commentary, Garn on commercial spaceflight

  • “An editorial by the Orlando Sentinel over the weekend, though, is less celebratory and more cautionary, comparing the SLS to the “Hail Mary pass in football — a last-chance bid for success.” The editorial is concerned that funding will not be available for the SLS at projected levels given the current zeal to cut federal spending, and that even if the money is available, the program won’t be able to stay on budget. “[I]f the space agency’s new program runs into the kind of problems that doomed Constellation, the nation might have no choice but to turn to the private sector. This could be NASA’s last chance.”

    SLS is Godzilla and NASA is Tokyo. I was hoping that there could be system where commercial did all Earth to LEO launches with NASA doing the really gutsy stuff for deep space, like developing a true spaceship such as Nautilus X.

    What I fear is that NASA’s political enemies (and despite what the SLS huggers say, the pro commercial crew people are not among those enemies) will use the inevitable economic failure of SLS to end NASA outright when SLS goes outrageously over budget. To many of the proSLS people, NASA isn’t solely an agency to promote America’s future needs in the space frontier, it is the mass of shuttle employees in certain politicians’ constituencies who have been there for decades. That is the reason why the particular design of SLS was chosen: mainly to keep that huge army employed in those political districts regardless of cost to the general American taxpayers spread across the country rather than produce an HLV that is the most economically feasible. If it leads to NASA’s doom, the SLS huggers will blame it on whoever is President at the time (Democrat or Republican) when the axe comes down, rather than admit to anyone (especially themselves) that they were the ultimate cause.

  • This attempt by the Congress-critters to keep the pork-ridden SLS NASA 10,000 standing army funded is doomed to fail.

    Just bid the HLV job out already and save the taxpayer billions of dollars.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    I have to agree with Mr. Garn there. Investments in commercial space won’t pay back to the taxpayer (let alone any sources of private capital) for decades. It’s really one of those things that only real visionaries or governments can get off the ground in the knowledge they will need heavy subsidy for a long time before they pay back.

    I also share the Sentinel‘s concerns about whether the level of funding for NASA can support both the development of SLS and the development of payloads that specifically make use of its immense potential lifting power. NASA (and, frankly, America) cannot afford to develop a super-rocket and then have it conducting make-work missions in LEO for a decade or more.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Pete Olson is the epitomy of a GOP corporate shill flunky…sadly I gave him money in 08. RGO

  • amightywind

    “It’s not going to be economically feasible for several years at a minimum.

    Terrific! By which time ISS will be ready to fall out of the sky and nerdspace will have no mission. Gotta love that thinking one step ahead.

  • Justin Kugler

    Like building a booster with no payloads, windy?

  • Aremis Asling

    “Investments in commercial space won’t pay back to the taxpayer (let alone any sources of private capital) for decades.”

    Funny, I think Garn said years (re-reads). Yup, years. It appears you actually don’t agree with him.

    “Terrific! By which time ISS will be ready to fall out of the sky and nerdspace will have no mission.”

    So commercial is set to launch ISS missions in 2016 at the latest and SLS isn’t set to launch ISS missions until the early 2020′s (and at far greater cost, I might add), but commercial is the one that is doomed to failure? Now, I haven’t had a math class in 8 or so years, but I do enough on a daily basis that I’m pretty sure you’ve got the two turned around.

    As to when ISS will come down, the soonest it is set to be deorbited is 2020. And contrary to your previously stated hopes and wishes, no one out there is seriously talking about bringing it down sooner. Indeed it is likely to be extended, per public statements by all parties earlier this year, to as far out as 2028. Which is plenty of time for even SLS or your stillborn Constellation to get off the ground and provide services for a few years. That’s over a decade of full-up operations by commercial. So again, windy, nice sound bite, but it’s wrong on all counts.

  • Christopher

    The Krugman picture is completely random yet hilarious.

  • Coastal Ron

    Ben Russell-Gough wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Investments in commercial space won’t pay back to the taxpayer (let alone any sources of private capital) for decades.

    Does any of NASA’s spending pay back to the taxpayer? The science portion doesn’t, unless you count government spending in general as a economic stimulus.

    HSF doesn’t pay back to the taxpayer – how much money did we get for Apollo Moon rocks?

    You could make a substantial argument that NASA research and technology for the aerospace industry has kept the U.S. more competitive and contributed to a safer air transport system, which I think does qualify as providing payback.

    they will need heavy subsidy for a long time before they pay back.

    If you depend on the standard cost-plus contracting scenario, then yes. If you create a competitive marketplace, then no.

    Take the CRS contract as an example. NASA is spending money up front to ensure that OSC and SpaceX are able to deliver cargo to the ISS in a way that NASA wants. Paying a provider to do something in a customer-specific way is common in industry, and this would not be considered a “subsidy”, more of along the lines of a set-up fee.

    Once NASA is done paying OSC and SpaceX for the COTS program (the set-up fee), all they need to do is buy services under the CRS contract. It will probably have it’s own GSA Schedule like other government services. No subsidies needed, and the payback is lower support costs for the ISS, which can be quantified. I think the payback for the money NASA is spending on COTS will be within 5 years, which is a pretty good investment for a government to make.

    Commercial Crew can be the same, IF a competitive market is created. And compared to what we were spending to get crew to space on the Shuttle ($214M/seat) and Soyuz ($63M/seat), I think the payback for using U.S. companies will also be around 5 years, and certainly within ten. Again, pretty good ROI for government spending.

  • Bennett

    ““It’s not going to be economically feasible for several years at a minimum. But it will become so,” he said of commercial spaceflight…”

    Is he referring to HSF? Or just commercial transport to LEO?

    I’d be willing to bet that ULA has found commercial spaceflight to be quite economically feasible, especially at the current going rate for DOD and NASA launches.

    To me, “commercial” means that you sell a product to someone else, even if it’s various branches of a government. Just because they have priced themselves out of the commsat market (while international launch providers are subsidized to allow them to offer a lower price) doesn’t change the basic “commerce” that’s going on.

  • josh

    we don’t need the iss. bigelow stations will do the job.

  • amightywind

    Like building a booster with no payloads, windy?

    The next NASA leadership team will have its hands full rooting out the activists at all levels.

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    The next NASA leadership team will have its hands full rooting out the activists at all levels.

    Time to set up “re-education” camps, eh comrade? ;-)

  • Give SLS a chance to be canceled sooner, write your arguments and references in wikipedia, where everybody can find what this is all about

    Does someone knows how to calculate the price per kg to leo of the SLS ?

  • Coastal Ron

    josh wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    we don’t need the iss. bigelow stations will do the job.

    If the goal was to have a big empty room, then yes, Bigelow modules will do just fine. But that’s not what the ISS is – it’s a laboratory filled with lots of science equipment.

    Just as one comparison, that science equipment that take lots of electricity and produce lots of heat, and the infrastructure to supply that electricity and get rid of that heat doesn’t exist on current Bigelow modules, and would have to be added. So no, a Bigelow module is not the same as, say, the ISS Columbus module.

    It’s kind of like saying a Ford Econoline van with no interior is an RV. Sure you can sleep in it, but…

  • Justin Kugler

    If anyone at Headquarters wants to talk to me about my opinions, they know how to find me.

  • MrEarl

    Josh:
    “we don’t need the iss. bigelow stations will do the job.”

    So what proof do you have for that statement?

  • Jim Hillhouse

    Well, I hate to ask…no, I don’t, but can we get a mea culpa from Oler, Major Tom, Rand Simberg, and all the others who said that the President’s 2010 Space Plan was the one true way forward, commercial would supersede NASA, and that SLS didn’t have a chance.

    Just to review, the President’s plan has finally had the last fork stuck in it with the votes by the House and Senate Apprps. committees.

    SpaceX and Orbital are both coming up on their 2nd anniversary, that is of being two years behind schedule (see GOA-09-618 for the bad news).

    SLS has been announced. But just to keep the monkey business that some on NASA’s 9th Floor find irresistable, the Senate Apprps. Committee last week voted to make CCDev funding contingent upon how much progress NASA makes with SLS…ouch! That outdid the House Apprps. Committee’s efforts to keep NASA’s slow-roll efforts of SLS at bay, which included a detailed list of how SLS funds could and could not be used.

    Anyone here watch last week’s NASA-ATK-EADS pressed announcing the Space Act Agreement on Liberty Launcher? Warmed my heart to see that the modified Ares I could be flying by 2015-2016.

    The second flight capable Orion spacecraft just had it’s keel laid down, so to speak. This one is meant to be the first flight test article (the current GTV is flight capable and TBD may actually be used in flight testing), and will be tested on a Delta IV in 2014 if JSC has it’s way. Orion is proceeding along quite nicely in its human ratings qualifications. Bummer that nobody else begins their human rating process until CCDev 4, slated for 2014.

    So let’s review. Ares I, a.k.a. Liberty Launcher, is on track. Orion is on track. Ares IV, a.k.a. SLS, is on track. Which means most of what was Constellation is on track. Wasn’t it supposed to be dead and gone? That honor instead goes to the President’s 2010 Space Plan.

    Life is definitely good!

  • amightywind

    we don’t need the iss. bigelow stations will do the job.

    At about 1/10 the cost. Seems obvious, don’t it? The ISS is a Cuckoo Bird that starves the rest of NASA spaceflight for funds. Its time for America to throw *it* out of the nest.

  • @Coastal Ron

    Sorry but there is no way that we’re getting $3 billion a year worth of tremendous science out of the ISS program. No way!

    There are a lot better ways to spend $3 billion a year for science than the ISS.

    The largest Bigelow space stations such as the BA-2100 could actually accommodate internal high G centrifuges perhaps 6 meters in diameter to see if the deleterious effects of microgravity on the human body can be mitigated or even eliminated through temporary high G acceleration.

  • common sense

    @ amightywind wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    “The next NASA leadership team will have its hands full rooting out the activists at all levels.”

    Good you’re not part of NASA or you might get booted with the next leadership…

    We missed you. Where have you been? Another one of your exclusive vacation?

  • Coastal Ron

    Wikiguy wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Does someone knows how to calculate the price per kg to leo of the SLS?

    $38B DDT&E divided by 286,600 lbs (130mt) = $132,589/lb to LEO for the first flight. For subsequent flights add $1.5B/flight. All of these cost numbers are guesses, but they fall in the range of what’s been estimated previously by NASA.

    As a comparison, Delta IV Heavy costs about $9,000/lb and Falcon Heavy close to $1,000/lb. If we ignored the SLS recurring costs (personnel, rocket parts, facilities maintenance, etc.), the SLS wouldn’t be cost competitive with Delta IV Heavy until after flight 15, which could be 20 years from now.

    Of course in the real world you can’t ignore recurring costs, so the SLS really doesn’t address the need to lower the cost to access space. In fact it is doing a real bang-up job in RAISING the cost to access space. Good Job Congress!

  • BRC

    Coastal Ron wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    Actually, doing a clean break like we did with the Mir (totally dispose of one and then take forever to build its replacement), what would be of optimal benefit would be a transitional approach:

    Like, first add a Bigelow or two to the current ISS (for the living space), while keeping the lab modules working just fine. In fact, rather then let precious habital volume go to waste, the current ISS hab modules can be re-assigned for additional lab space.

    A station based primarily on the BA modules may eventually succeed the ISS’s spam-in-a-can architecture. But you’re right, the first build would have it resemble a newly constructed home — gorgeous on the outside, spacious on the inside… but nothing else, until the owners move in.

    Because of the expense (it’ll still be high for a while) of getting high-$ assets up there, then as the ISS retirement date nears, I would rather see it get partially disassembled, with all the best & still functioning sections (like maybe some of the solar panels or the JAXA Kibo) get transferred to a bigger ISS-2, one based primarily on the BA architecture. And hopefully this time, it’ll be in a much-much-much more useful orbit that that Russian-friendly (and useless otherwise) one we are now stuck with.

  • BRC

    Sorry, I mis-typed: What I meant to say in my first sentence above was for us to NOT do what was done to Mir — burn it and then take forever with the ISS. I admit it was probably necessary to get cash-strapped Russia moving from an already ancient outpost; but still, I hated to see it go. A better way now would be to keep what you have, then transistion or evolve. Use the predecessor to help build up its replacement.

  • John Malkin

    BRC wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Like, first add a Bigelow or two to the current ISS (for the living space), while keeping the lab modules working just fine. In fact, rather then let precious habital volume go to waste, the current ISS hab modules can be re-assigned for additional lab space.

    This could have been done under a robust advance tech development program. As a matter of fact, the UK had talked about adding living and meeting space since we have enough lab space. But… How much is advance tech budget now? That would have helped Bigelow grow.

  • common sense

    @ Jim Hillhouse wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    “Well, I hate to ask…no, I don’t, but can we get a mea culpa from Oler, Major Tom, Rand Simberg, and all the others who said that the President’s 2010 Space Plan was the one true way forward, commercial would supersede NASA, and that SLS didn’t have a chance.”

    Nobody here that I can remember said commercial would supersede NASA… Ridiculous.

    SLS does not have a chance. No budget. Whether you like it or not the allocated budget is NOT enough.

    Now if and when SLS flies then I will duly admit my mistake. In the mean time, we wait until what? 2025? Is that how long we wait until we “apologize”?

  • Well, I hate to ask…no, I don’t, but can we get a mea culpa from Oler, Major Tom, Rand Simberg, and all the others who said that the President’s 2010 Space Plan was the one true way forward, commercial would supersede NASA, and that SLS didn’t have a chance.

    Why would we issue a “mea culpa” for something that isn’t our fault? Do you even understand what that phrase means? Apparently not.

    It’s not over yet. Next year there will be a new senate, certainly without KBH, and probably without Nelson, and likely a new president, that will have to do something fiscally sane with NASA. SLS is just the the next NASA rocket that will be canceled.

  • SpaceColonizer

    @Wikiguy

    You know, I don’t approve of having opinions put on wiki. And even the cost to LEO /kg would only be based on estimates and assumed launch schedules and payload sizes. I just think your call to arms to edit the SLS wiki page highlights what I don’t like about wiki.

    @Coastal Ron

    In regards to the “return” we get from science, just because we don’t get a monetary return doesn’t mean there isn’t cultural value in expanding our scientific understanding. I mean, such a small percent of people go on to have lucrative careers in history, yet our educational system insists on having it as a primary subject, why? Because we put a non monetary value on historical awareness. Basic research expands our scientific awareness and I think that has some type of value, usually worth the monetary costs. Now HSF is a different story. I think it’s much harder to make this argument for HSF because robots CAN do science, for much cheaper. The only things humans can do in space that robots can’t is LIVE, which is very difficult for them to do I might add. This ability to live in outer space, is to me the reason we should even have a space program, but it’s a lot harder to show the merits of this to justify the costs. There’s that old phrase: nobody knows the value of water until the well runs dry. Well… I think nobody will know the value of human settlement of space until Earth is fucked.

  • amightywind

    Well, I hate to ask…no, I don’t, but can we get a mea culpa from Oler, Major Tom, Rand Simberg

    Conversely, where is the praise I am due having correctly predicted a congressional response to the cancellation of Project Constellation last sprintg? I think they should rename the SLS, amightywind!

    We missed you. Where have you been? Another one of your exclusive vacation?

    No, not ’till December. I haven’t been interested in any of the stories, and space politics are mostly going in a way that I approve. I’m just working away, creating shareholder value…

  • common sense

    @ Rand Simberg wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    “Next year there will be a new senate,”

    Yes. Not sure if it’ll be any better though.

    “certainly without KBH,”

    Sure.

    “and probably without Nelson,”

    That would probably be nice. Or maybe he can run as a Republican? Don’t know. Argh he might still lose. Oh well…

    “and likely a new president,”

    Nope. Very unlikely. See we, commercial advocates, cannot agree on presidents. Just for those who think that the commercial advocates are together in a conspiracy to derail NASA.

    Considering the current crop of GOPers and the forerunners, I surely hope not one will be elected. And Romney will not be elected nor win the nomination. He would have to explain why his health reform is that better and different from that of the WH. It might be fun to watch though but he’ll lose. CEO or not.

    “that will have to do something fiscally sane with NASA.”

    Hope springs eternal they say. If the banks are any indication of what governments (<- plural important here) actually do then we'll have to wait for NASA to go bankrupt before someone does something, anything. And that something may not even be fiscally sane or even just plain sane.

    "SLS is just the the next NASA rocket that will be canceled."

    Sure but it may take another 10/20 years. Or an economic collapse of the US which of course is not that far off.

  • Coastal Ron

    SpaceColonizer wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    In regards to the “return” we get from science…

    I’m all for funding science, so no argument there.

    My point was to Ben Russell-Gough about investments by the commercial space industry, in that the government attains an ROI pretty quickly (as government investments go).

  • Coastal Ron

    BRC wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Like, first add a Bigelow or two to the current ISS (for the living space), while keeping the lab modules working just fine. In fact, rather then let precious habital volume go to waste, the current ISS hab modules can be re-assigned for additional lab space.

    I agree with your approach. “Some people” still think in disposable terms for what we do in space. Build something, use, dispose of it. Build something, use, dispose of it. All they want to do it throw away money.

    Adding to, and transforming the ISS is a good use of assets, and my hope is that the ISS will look very different in 2028 than it does now. I would imagine that we’ll also find ways to extend the usefulness of the original ISS modules so they can help us as we expand out into space.

    Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

  • John Malkin

    SpaceColonizer wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Now HSF is a different story. I think it’s much harder to make this argument for HSF because robots CAN do science, for much cheaper.

    I agree for the most part robots are cost effective at exploration but there are something that our robots can’t do and it would be really really expensive to develop. The Human machine is very powerful and flexible. However I agree that Science can’t be the reason for HSF. There is nothing a HSF mission can do that is urgent enough to justify including a one off to a Mars moon. The only imperative is Human settlement of space. We are currently a single point of failure in our solar system.

  • MrEarl

    CS said:
    “Nobody here that I can remember said commercial would supersede NASA… Ridiculous.”

    Surly you jest! Oler, Bennet, MT and others have alluded to this many times over the past two years. Just last week Oler was crowing how Bolden had expertly killed Constellation and the announcement of the SLS was the final nail in the coffin. There have been many calls and predictions that NASA should and would go back to being the old NACA.
    Proof? Pick almost any topic from the past two years and it always seems to degenerate into NASA bad, commercial (especially SpaceX)good. Both have their place and it seems to be commercial in LEO and NASA BEO.

  • Coastal Ron

    Jim Hillhouse wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Ares I, a.k.a. Liberty Launcher, is on track” – still a powerpoint rocket, and has no customers.

    Oh, and if the earliest it will be ready is 2017, that’s too late for Commercial Crew, which NASA just announced needs to be ready by 2014. Sorry.

    Orion is on track. ” – Yep, only $4B or so left to spend. Wow, what a deal for a single-use 4-person limited functionality capsule.

    Ares IV, a.k.a. SLS, is on track.” – Sure, just like Ares V was, and we all know how well that turned out. So it will be for the SLS.

    That honor instead goes to the President’s 2010 Space Plan.

    Hmm, let’s see. Constellation cancelled, ISS extended, Commercial Crew funded. Oh, and let’s not forget that the President wanted the MPCV, so no, you can’t chalk it up as a win, since he got what he wanted.

    And regarding the Liberty, I don’t know why you’re so giddy about it since Congress has designated the SLS as the MPCV carrier vehicle, not the Liberty. It continues to be a rocket for no one, duplicating capabilities that already exist in more trusted or far less expensive rockets. It’s the little rocket that won’t… ;-)

  • amightywind

    Falcon Heavy close to $1,000/lb.

    Please stop misleading readers and stating such things with confidence. SpaceX has only built and flown a two F9 cores, and haven’t even developed the necessary fuel management systems for the F9 Heavy. They have no idea how much it costs. Consistently low balling estimates, and failing to deliver, (which is what they have done to date) can do harm to the launch industry.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    One thing that has always fascinated me about people who have both run down Constellation and the current plan. Besides vague talking points about commercializing space exploration, what is their alternative?

    The answer, of course, is to do nothing except provide subsidies for low Earth orbit space taxis.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Simberg, by the way, has a quaint notion about how politics works. Conservatives led the fight to restore the space exploration program that Obama tried to kill. A conservative POTUS is not going to repeat Obama’s mistake.

    I expect the next administration to come in on an anti crony capitalism platform. That makes the current commercial crew program far more at risk than SLS. I can see commercial crew being cut back and a new “public option,” maybe the Liberty with an Orion light attached to it.

  • Wikiguy

    @Coastal Ron
    i used the numbers from the esd integration
    http://spacepolicyonline.com/pages/images/stories/SLS_budget_Integration_2011-08.pdf
    with scenerio one (president and also the cheapest), four lauches at 70metricT (page 18) until 2025, sls line discarding the other costs and found $16,813B/(4*70 000) = 60 046 $ per kg to leo
    is this the correct method to do the calculation ?

    one line i cannot figure it out is the 21stCGS symbol

    @SpaceColonizer
    If we fail to explain to others (average people not particulaty interested in space and medias) what the sls story is about, why politicians sould care about it ? Wikipedia offer a cheap tribune to explain some space issues, what better place accessible to everyone not connected to a space club exist out here ?
    Its i think a mistake to not make use of this a centralized place of information.

  • @ josh wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    we don’t need the iss. bigelow stations will do the job.

    What is “the job”?

    For certain tasks, the ISS does have some utility. It can be used to test some of the technologies needed to expand our reach beyond earth orbit, such as testing the NAUTILUS-X centrifuge or the Altius Sticky Boom. It is not a deep-space vehicle, and it is ill-suited for certain other tasks, such as orbital assembly of large deep-space structures (due to the inclination of its orbit).

    A stand-alone Bigelow module has limited utility as an orbital destination. The real power of those Bigelow modules is that they are modules, designed to be part of a larger structure of interconnected modules. The NAUTILUS-X design draws heavily on Bigelow modules and other expanding structures (like the centrifuge), and any manned L1 station is likely to use them, as are many other applications.

    Bigelow won’t start launching the big stations until there are at least two private launch providers that can get their passengers to and from orbit. SpaceX or Boeing or SNC or Blue Origin can prove manned capability by flying people to and from the ISS. That retires the risk. Bigelow needs that risk retired so that he know his customers will be able to use his product – no sense launching until you know you can get astronauts there and back.

    So, for whatever your definition of “the job”, you’re going to need ISS until Bigelow’s business case closes, with two different companies launching people there and bringing them back.

  • Vladislaw

    From Bill Nelson, democrat from Florida.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14925154

    ” “Will it be tough times going forward? Of course it is,” Mr Nelson told journalists. “We are in an era in which we have to do more with less – all across the board – and the competition for the available dollars will be fierce.” “

    Competition will be fierce? There isn’t any competition. These massive subsidies for crony capitalism are all being done at a cost plus – fixed fee contracts with enough escalator clauses to reach the moon.

    Talk about clueless.

  • abreakingwind wrote: I’m just working away, creating shareholder value…

    For whom, your competitors?

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    SpaceX has only built and flown a two F9 cores, and haven’t even developed the necessary fuel management systems for the F9 Heavy.

    The Falcon Heavy comes in two variations – one that uses a cross-feed fuel system, and one that doesn’t.

    The one that doesn’t use cross-feed is essentially three Falcon 9 cores strapped together, just like Delta IV Heavy. And the pricing for that lower powered version is around $1,100/lb to LEO based on capacity comments from SpaceX when they announced it.

    They have no idea how much it costs.

    Oh they have a better idea about their costs than ATK/Astrium do about the Liberty, and ATK is unofficially quoting $180M/launch for that. ATK/Astrium have never built a complete Liberty and launched it, so they are making plenty of guesses.

    SpaceX has already built and launched two Falcon 9′s, and have more in production, so they have real numbers that they can use for determining their pricing. And since they are using modern but proven manufacturing techniques and technology, once you have a design that works it’s easy to see where your costs are going.

    Consistently low balling estimates

    I know this is a foreign concept in the space business, but SpaceX publishes their prices. And once you sign on the dotted line, then that’s the price you get, regardless if the next rocket made is priced higher. And just like in the real world, their prices change over time, but the prices already negotiated don’t, so there is incentive to buy early.

    Being a code monkey I’m sure this hardware talk is kind of confusing to you… ;-)

  • common sense

    @ MrEarl wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    “Surly you jest! Oler, Bennet, MT and others have alluded to this many times over the past two years.”

    I disagree. It is the way you interpreted it. I did not.

    “Just last week Oler was crowing how Bolden had expertly killed Constellation and the announcement of the SLS was the final nail in the coffin.”

    Constellation yes. NASA no. A lot of you tend to equate NASA with HSF or even Constellation but NASA is so much more than that.

    “There have been many calls and predictions that NASA should and would go back to being the old NACA.”

    Yes. And at this time I think it should too. It does NOT mean NASA should not do exploration. BUT all we see from NASA is the rehashed Apollo theme. When someone came up with Nautilus-X, people who support SLS came against the guy. Yet there is a lot more future in something like N-X, much more so than in SLS which is not affordable. We’ll reread the threads in 2025 and see who was right, or wrong.

    “Proof? Pick almost any topic from the past two years and it always seems to degenerate into NASA bad, commercial (especially SpaceX)good.”

    No again your interpretation. I will tell you though that SpaceX is the poster child of the New Space revolution BUT the others are there too: Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada and the last but not the least Boeing. I always said that if Boeing wants to be on it they easily can do it, especially if they take cues from the commercial airplane side. And it looks like they are doing at least some of it.

    “Both have their place and it seems to be commercial in LEO and NASA BEO.”

    Yes. BUT BEO is not equal to SLS, nor does it actually require SLS. All the money going to SLS could be used to a much better place into developing a concept for a spacecraft going possibly first to the Moon then other places like Mars or anything in between. The craft could easily be automated for the initial missions collecting data and then to define a ECLSS for crewed missions. There could be a path forward. SLS is a path backward. Useless and expensive.

  • John Malkin

    Coastal Ron wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I know this is a foreign concept in the space business, but SpaceX publishes their prices. And once you sign on the dotted line, then that’s the price you get, regardless if the next rocket made is priced higher. And just like in the real world, their prices change over time, but the prices already negotiated don’t, so there is incentive to buy early.

    Unless you think they will go lower. :)

  • josh

    “So what proof do you have for that statement?”

    what proof do you have that sls will ever reach orbit? bigelow is performing much better than nasa these days (genesis 1&2 being complete successes at a very low cost) so i’m betting on them. it’s the rational thing to do while believing in sls is akin to wishful thinking and delusinal thinking.

    in time these stations will be just as capable as the iss in terms of scientific research and they can serve a lot of other purposes (e.g. nautilus x). difference is it will actually make economic sense to do something with them.

  • Houston and much of Texas is starting to realize that SLS is not a good deal for them.
    http://blog.chron.com/sciguy/2011/09/as-nasa-pols-celebrate-their-rocket-plan-a-splash-of-cold-water/

    Also, it’s beginning to sink in that SLS is not really going to benefit JSC any time soon.
    http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/JSC-turns-50-under-a-cloudy-sky-2178718.php

    Thanks to Andrew Gasser at Tea Party in Space for the heads up on this:
    http://www.teapartyinspace.org/?q=content/houston-gets-it

  • Vladislaw

    SETI picked up another tranmission from planet Whittington

    “I expect the next administration to come in on an anti crony capitalism platform.”

    So the next President is going to kill the MASSIVE subsidies and crony capitalism being paid to ATK and Lockheed Martian and kill the SENATE V hlv?

    Wow. I believe this is the first correct statement that has ever came from the alternate universe where planet whittington resides.

  • DCSCA

    Jake Garn is the ultimate symbol of government waste by NASA. His own spaceflight, during which he did little more than upchuck his peas and on cue, ham it up on TV with Reagan, was nothing but an extremely expensive Congressional junket by a Republican senator frm Utah, where components for the shuttle’s murderous SRB were made, that took a seat away from a more qualified individual. Whatever Garn has to say today about spaceflight isa as outdated as the Reaganomics the put him up there in the forst place.

  • common sense

    @ Rick Boozer wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks for the link.

    http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/JSC-turns-50-under-a-cloudy-sky-2178718.php

    Here is a quote for the daydreaming SLS/MPCV supporter to chew on for some time and then chew again until it goes to the head. 25 percent cut. Twenty five percent cut. You know like venticinque, vingt cinq, funf und zwanzig, veinticinco. I am trying to see if it is a language problem. 二十五 for our friends who like China so much (hope it is right I used Google to translate). And that for our computer friends 11001.

    Do you really think NASA is going to re-hire the contractors it is going to lay off? To do what???? SLS??? SLS is not at JSC. MPCV??? MPCV can sustain that many lay offs? As I once said the plan under Constellation was to shrink the workforce. Here goes for you.

    “With NASA moving beyond the Houston-based space shuttle program earlier this year, the sprawling Clear Lake center will see its budget cut by about 25 percent, to $4.5 billion next year.”

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    “I expect the next administration to come in on an anti crony capitalism platform. That makes the current commercial crew program far more at risk than SLS. I can see commercial crew being cut back and a new “public option,” maybe the Liberty with an Orion light attached to it.”

    That is a laugh.

    IF there is a change of administrations and IF the next one comes in on an “anti crony capitalism platform” why would it put commercial crew at risk, instead of SLS.

    SLS is crony capitalism…it is a program designed to keep the “stakeholders” in the government till.

    Why dont you answer the question…its a basic one, why are you a coward on this…why is SLS not crony capitalism and something that is providing a service for a price is?

    come on Mark try and answer a simple question RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    “One thing that has always fascinated me about people who have both run down Constellation and the current plan. Besides vague talking points about commercializing space exploration, what is their alternative? ”

    no space exploration by humans. There is no need for it at the cost that it currently commands. For less then teh price of a single year of SLS development, we could send probes to many of the planets which would do far more exploration then SLS will do in that year or any other year.

    There is no support right now at the cost it would command for “space exploration” by government employees at NASA.

    Not even the current crop of GOP candidates has indicated any interest in it, in fact just the opposite.

    Dont be goofy RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    Rand Simberg wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    “It’s not over yet. Next year there will be a new senate, certainly without KBH, and probably without Nelson, and likely a new president, that will have to do something fiscally sane with NASA. SLS is just the the next NASA rocket that will be canceled.”

    SLS wont survive the super committee. It is in the “end game” now… RGO

  • Fred Willett

    Mark R. Whittington wrote
    One thing that has always fascinated me about people who have both run down Constellation and the current plan. Besides vague talking points about commercializing space exploration, what is their alternative?
    The answer, of course, is to do nothing …

    This
    http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Woodcock_9-14-11/
    is a path to Mars on DIVH in blocks of 40t proposed by NASA engineers.
    Requires 12 DIVH launches pa. same sort of budget as SLS (aprox) and the budget also includes AND FUNDS landers, tugs, fuel depots, a Mars base. Wow. We would actually get to go somewhere and in about the same time frame as building SLS.
    Of course watching a SLS take off is going to be so much more spectacular even if there is no money for actual payloads.

  • Fred Willett

    Not that I want to shill for FISO. But their architecture is a good counterpoint to the SLS nonsense.
    The fact is that there are lots of ways forward. But each path forward involves actually building the bits needed for any sustainable BEO plan.
    You’ve got to have fuel depots – remember even at 130t SLS is way too small to go anywhere useful without fuel depots = reusable refuelable in space stages, space habitats (read bigelow modules) SEP tugs and so on.
    None of this stuff is funded under SLS.
    If you think once SLS is built you can just climb on top and go you’re wrong. You would still have to wait while all this stuff is designed, tested and built. And where do you get the money when SLS is sucking up every dollar in sight?
    Building SLS sets us back another 20 years. My only hope is that the budget crunch is likely to kill it quickly.

  • Dennis

    Fuel depots may indeed be a good thing. However there are many plans on the drawing boards for reaching Mars without them. So the question must be, will money be put forward to produce them. I dont think so.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ Dennis,

    In a very real sense, money is not forthcoming to use the major alternative, the ‘Battlestar Galactica’ behemoth like DRA 5.0, although I’ll admit that this is closer to reality with the current public focus on long-duration NEO encounter missions.

    IMO at least, fuel depots will emerge, like commercial cargo, from a visible market. If there is a requirement for BEO cargo (say supporting a lunar surface facility, a sort of ISS on the Moon) then there will be an opening for commercial lunar cargo. The commercial providers could develop HLVs, but it would probably be cheaper to launch the vehicles on the current under development ~50t IMLEO launchers and make the upper stages capable of receiving propellent on-orbit. There will then be a commercial impetus to developing on-orbit propellent storage.

    What is interesting, to me at least, is that both the long-loiter cryogenic propulsion stage and on-orbit propellent storage and transfer have a lot of common technologies. So, one could easily give us the other.

  • Martijn Meijering

    If there is a requirement for BEO cargo (say supporting a lunar surface facility, a sort of ISS on the Moon)

    Or propellant at L1/L2.

    but it would probably be cheaper to launch the vehicles on the current under development ~50t IMLEO launchers

    Why not on the existing 20-30mT launchers? Once there is enough traffic, everything (HLVs, depots, ISRU, NTR etc) can be developed by the private sector. The key is to establish the traffic.

  • Coastal Ron

    Dennis wrote @ September 21st, 2011 at 6:05 am

    However there are many plans on the drawing boards for reaching Mars without them. [fuel depots]

    Try driving cross country with using fuel depots and you’ll quickly see why EVERY halfway valid plan to reach Mars relies on in-space refueling.

    We can’t build rockets big enough to carry a complete Mars expedition. When we do go to Mars, it will be with ships we build in orbit that have been tested with trips within the Earth-Moon system, and refueled as needed in space.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ Martijn

    Why propellent at the LaGrange points? No market, no product. You know that I reject your ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy. There has to be an anchor market to make anyone willing to take a risk on the product.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Why propellent at the LaGrange points?

    For an exploration spacecraft, delivered to that spacecraft, without needing a separate depot just yet.

    No market, no product. You know that I reject your ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy.

    That must be a misunderstanding, like you I strongly reject the ‘build it and they will come philosophy’.

    There has to be an anchor market to make anyone willing to take a risk on the product.

    Absolutely, and NASA could establish that market. Much easier to do with (storable) propellant than with cargo.

  • Aremis Asling

    Jim Hillhouse said:
    “SpaceX and Orbital are both coming up on their 2nd anniversary, that is of being two years behind schedule (see GOA-09-618 for the bad news).”

    I love when people point this one out because it is such a poor argument for the alternative. Dragon and Cygnus may, indeed, be two years behind schedule, but they could be 14 years behind schedule and still beat SLS to the ISS. And lest we bring Constellation into the mix, they would still be allowed an 8 year buffer before Ares I would have flown. And unlike Ares/Orion or SLS/Orion, Commercial will costs pennies on the dollar to get there. Yes, SLS/Orion is meant to go beyond LEO, but that’s precisely the point. It’s way too expensive and overpowered for ISS flights. And given that Ares I was supposed to fly as early as 2012 when it was announced, but was expected to fly in 2016 at best by the time it was cancelled, I have little reason to believe SLS will fly on time anyway. So yes, it’s disappointing Dragon and Cygnus aren’t flying yet, but they have a long, long time before it makes any sense to do an alternative.

    “The second flight capable Orion spacecraft just had it’s keel laid down, so to speak.”

    Orion has never been in question. It’s the one element of Constellation that has been on time and up to capability. It has gone a good bit over budget, but since when is that unexpected from NASA?

  • Aremis Asling

    “I just think your call to arms to edit the SLS wiki page highlights what I don’t like about wiki.”

    Actually, while opinion certainly makes it onto Wiki far more frequently than many would like, it’s actually strictly against Wikipedia policy. As is calculating numbers based on prior published results. It’s considered “original research” and is one of the central policies that allows Wikipedia to function to whatever extent it does. Wiki editors spend a considerable amount of personal, unpaid time cleaning up all of the opinion on the site. Quite the task with more than 3 million articles on the English site alone. Please don’t advocate to make their job harder.

  • Aremis Asling

    amightywind said:

    “Falcon Heavy close to $1,000/lb.

    Please stop misleading readers and stating such things with confidence. SpaceX has only built and flown a two F9 cores, and haven’t even developed the necessary fuel management systems for the F9 Heavy. They have no idea how much it costs. Consistently low balling estimates, and failing to deliver, (which is what they have done to date) can do harm to the launch industry.”

    Your ‘rebuttal’ entirely misses the point. No matter how much F Heavy (the dropped the 9 a while back, btw) costs, it will be far, far lower than the cost/kg of SLS. And while the cost of F1 and F9 at first flight were higher than when they were first announced, they weren’t dramatically higher. Indeed the increase was negligable compared to the cost increase on the Delta or Atlas series. It was statistically insignificant compared tho the ever inflating cost/kg for Shuttle and Constellation. I can’t imagine SLS will come in cheaper than initial estimates. That would essentially be the first time in the history of spaceflight by any company or organization that such a feat was achieved.

  • Aremis Asling

    “I expect the next administration to come in on an anti crony capitalism platform.”

    When a conservative administration takes a stand AGAINST crony capitalism, I’ll be damn impressed. They pick winners just as much as Dems do. They just pick different ones. The examples are numerous and stretch back to the early days of our current two party system and beyond, and neither party has demonstrated any more willingness to part ways with corporate favoritism than the other. I’ve long ago given up hope that anyone will ever follow through with that promise. But by all means keep believing. Perhaps they can run on a platform of Hope and Change, too. That, too, happens every time a president runs with the differences being entirely semantic, and with the same results.

  • DCSCA

    @Robert G. Oler wrote @ September 20th, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    “SLS wont survive the super committee. It is in the “end game” now… RGO”

    NASA’s contribution to the super committee budget hounds will be the JWST. Its not needed. SLS and MPCV/Orion will not only survive but thrive, because it represents experience, means jobs and a future. Commerical HSF does not- because they have flown nobody; meanwhile, the government has, successfully, for over 50 years.

  • Aremis Asling

    “Commerical HSF does not- because they have flown nobody; meanwhile, the government has, successfully, for over 50 years.”

    The last 30 years of which has been on the same vehicle, which we just cancelled. At least SpaceX has built and launched something new in my lifetime.

    Even so, your “they won’t fly because they never have” logic is truly bone-headed. As I’ve said before, in 2005 all the chattering class said SpaceX would never launch anything. When Falcon 1 flew they scoffed at Falcon 9. When that flew, they balked at Dragon. With Dragon to ISS on the calendar for later this year, expect the goal posts to shift again soon. At each of those points precisely your argument has been made: They won’t, because they haven’t.

    And while they have been behind schedule, they’ve far outperformed the large and growing list of paper rockets NASA has put on the table since Challenger.

  • Coastal Ron

    Aremis Asling wrote @ September 21st, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Even so, your “they won’t fly because they never have” logic is truly bone-headed.

    The real irony is that DCSCA’s arguments are like him telling von Braun that “man has never flown to the Moon, so therefore we never can“. He doesn’t understand “new” things…

  • Frank Glover

    @ DCSCA:

    “NASA’s contribution to the super committee budget hounds will be the JWST. Its not needed.”

    That depends on whose needs you’re referring to.Yes, it may ultimately be cancelled, but neither the scientists, engineers and technicians involved in its development, nor the scientists expecting to use it, regard JWST as only a bone to throw away, in hopes of justifying something far more expensive, and far less justifiable.

    “SLS and MPCV/Orion will not only survive but thrive, because it represents experience, means jobs and a future.”

    So, none of those things will ever, ever be a result of Commercial Crew, is that what you suggest? No ‘experience,’ no jobs, no future? People are earning paychecks on Commercial Crew development, as we speak. It’s just not a standing army in critical states/districts, they hire only as many as they need, like any pruvate business. Which brings me to…

    Though I’m as much for reducing unemployment as anyone, since when did the number of people employed in a major technological development become the figure of merit, instead of bringing in that project successfully, and within schedule and budget? (yes, I really know the answer, I hinted at it in the previous paragraph, I just want to see if you’ll say it)

    “Commercial HSF does not- because they have flown nobody…”

    Yet.

    When does SLS expect to? What will you say if a commercial entity puts someone in LEO, before SLS even flies unmanned? Will there be a raising of the bar of what constitutes success?

    “…meanwhile, the government has, successfully, for over 50 years.”

    Again, define success. Certain goals were achieved, reaching the Moon (though not in a way that we could afford to continue) ‘before the decade is out,’ and before the Soviets, chief among them. But various other NASA HSF projects, before, during and after Apollo, were also cancelled before ever flying anyone (some deserved to be cancelled, some should have been operational today), and lives have been lost in several programs that were not.

    For Commercial Crew, ‘success’ is putting people in LEO for re-supply and crew rotations at space stations* and returning, at a significantly lower cost than we’ve seen to date. Though the Space Shuttle was a valiant attempt, in 50 years, NASA has yet to show success at this.

    * Note the plural. Yes, ISS is the ‘anchor customer’ to help break the ‘which comes first, commercial HSF, or commercial orbital destinations’ chicken-egg conundrum, but ultimately would become an increasingly smaller fraction of the business…

  • The real irony is that DCSCA’s arguments

    The creature makes no arguments — just boneheaded assertions. It’s one of those idiots that thinks that nothing can ever be done for the first time.

    Even so, your “they won’t fly because they never have” logic is truly bone-headed. As I’ve said before, in 2005 all the chattering class said SpaceX would never launch anything. When Falcon 1 flew they scoffed at Falcon 9. When that flew, they balked at Dragon. With Dragon to ISS on the calendar for later this year, expect the goal posts to shift again soon. At each of those points precisely your argument has been made: They won’t, because they haven’t.

    I had similar thoughts over at Open Market yesterday.

  • Vladislaw

    Excellent article Rand.

    Once again, right on point.

  • @DCSCA:

    SLS and MPCV/Orion will not only survive but thrive, because it represents experience, means jobs and a future.

    At least two of those points are dead wrong. There is no meaningful “experience” in “evolving” the existing Shuttle architecture into a wholly different one to the tune of tens of billions; you could start from scratch just as easily. SLS/MPCV will certainly not be the future, as the only source of propellant for either will be Earth.

    Commerical HSF does not- because they have flown nobody; meanwhile, the government has, successfully, for over 50 years.

    Just about every nook and cranny of the “government” HSF is littered with contractors. Tell me again how commercial has no experience?

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