Congress, NASA

Mixed reaction to NASA’s commercial crew shift

NASA’s decision to shift from a fixed-price contract for the next phase of its commercial crew development effort back to a Space Act Agreement (SAA), like that used in the first two rounds of the program, has resulted in a range of reactions. Much of the industry either directly involved in the program or otherwise supporting it, who fought the move away from SAAs this summer, endorsed the move. Meanwhile, some key members of Congress expressed concern about increased risk with this revised approach.

“This is a surprising victory for common sense within NASA in getting the most benefit for the country out of a limited Commercial Crew budget,” concluded the Space Access Society in a statement released shortly after Thursday morning’s announcement. That organization had argued that a switch to contracts based on Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) “was likely to fatally increase Commercial Crew Program costs and timelines.”

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) also endorsed the NASA move, citing NASA’s desire to promote competition by funding at least two companies in this upcoming and future phases of the program. “Competition is the key to the Commercial Crew Program, and we are pleased to see that NASA is continuing to promote competition,” CSF executive director Alex Saltman said.

The chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), was less enthused with the shift, citing a potential for increased risk because, under an SAA, NASA cannot direct companies to meet specific requirements. Hall suggested that NASA accelerate the competition by perhaps doing away with the competition that industry appears eager to support. “In order to reduce risk and cost, and to minimize further schedule slips, it would be my hope that two commercial companies would team together to jointly develop a cost-effective and safe launch system,” he said in a statement.

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), also expressed concerns about increased risk under the SAA approach in a separate statement. “I am concerned that NASA’s plan does not appear to contain sufficient margins and other risk reduction measures to give Congress confidence that it has a high probability of successfully meeting the objective of providing safe and cost-effective commercial crew transportation to and from the International Space Station by 2016 or even 2017,” she said.

Also yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its own report on NASA’s commercial crew program, citing concerns about budget levels. Noting that the funding levels are about half of what was originally projected, “NASA’s ability to execute its approach as currently planned is unlikely.” (In the context of the report, “as currently planned” refers to the agency’s prior plans for a FAR-based contract, not the shift to SAAs announced Thursday morning.) That would force NASA to support perhaps a single contractor, increasing programmatic risks. The report recommended that NASA reassess the program before going forward with the RFP for the Integrated Design Phase contract—which is exactly what NASA did, concluding that it would shift back to SAAs.

46 comments to Mixed reaction to NASA’s commercial crew shift

  • ROBERT OLER

    A little of this will matter when at some point SpaceX gets to ISS then it will be the new normal.. Being up in DC for a day is enoughto make you recognize how screwed up the Congress is. RGO

  • common sense

    @ ROBERT OLER wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 8:52 am

    “how screwed up the Congress is.”

    Are we starting to agree?

    ;)

  • amightywind

    It seems the NASA management is making the same mistakes with CC for which they criticized the previous management of Constellation. Anyway you look at it, $300 million spread over 4 contracts is spreading scarce funds too thin. Why not hand the whole amount over to Boeing? Their effort is credible. They would have a CST-100 flying on an Atlas V in 2 years on that money. Or is it like most other Administration policies, where results don’t matter as much as handing graft to their well connected supporters?

  • D. Edward Farrar

    Hand $300 million over to Boeing so they can have a CST-100 flying on an Atlas V in 2 years? We could hand the same money over to SpaceX and probably have a manned Dragon flying on a Falcon 9 in less time than that. (Whatever happened to NASA’s argument that they needed the Aries I because the Atlas V and Delta IV could not possibly be man-rated, by the way? I’m just wondering.)

    One of the problems with this approach is that while dividing $300 million between four contracts may seem like “spreading scarce funds too thin”, handing it all over to one contractor destroys the very element of competition that makes the free market an improvement over NASA doing everything in-house in the first place. Personally, I suspect if you handed all $300 million over to Boeing and eliminated the other three competitors, you would quickly start receiving memos about how the CST-100 is a new program and is experiencing delays and you would not want them to launch before it is safe and it might take longer that the 787 unless they get another $300 million for Christmas….

  • MrEarl

    Well congress, if you don’t fund the project at levels even close to what is required this is what you get.
    In one way this is good by keeping more companys involved and flexable in their problem solving. On the other hand this will cost at least one year and $180 million for three more seats on the Soyuz. That additional $180 million would have almost been enough to properly fund the program congress wanted.
    Downsizing to one or even two would be counter productive at this point leading to higher costs in the long run.

  • amightywind

    We could hand the same money over to SpaceX and probably have a manned Dragon flying on a Falcon 9 in less time than that.

    We’re down to brass tacks here. Boeing and Lockmart are credible. SpaceX is less so.

    handing it all over to one contractor destroys the very element of competition

    Like I said, the liberals care more about how things get done, not whether they get done at all. Your fantasy of getting 4 bidders to fight over ISS crew transport is over.

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Why not hand the whole amount over to Boeing? Their effort is credible.

    You’re not much on free market solutions, are you? Why do you always want the government to pick winners before the race has finished?

    The CST-100, which a capable vehicle, is the least capable of the crop of four CCDev participants. Dragon can stay in space longer, including better safety margins for power when catching up with the ISS (Dragon has solar panels, CST-100 is battery only). And both Dream Chaser and Blue Origins biconic capsule have better cross-range ability than the CST-100.

    Better to let capitalism take it’s course, and let the stronger solutions prevail.

  • amightywind

    Why do you always want the government to pick winners before the race has finished?

    Because your capitalism requires the infusion of government funds, which are only sufficient, according to my adroit judgement, to support one credible effort. Like I said, your fantasy has met fiscal reality. That said, I assume we still want ISS crew transport. Maybe failure in the name of fairness is more important than the mission to liberals.

  • Das Boese

    Actually, SpaceX could produce a manned launch for nearly zero additional money. The only thing that prevents the current Dragon spacecraft from taking people to orbit, with safety similar to STS, is the lack of seats and an instrument panel.

    In any case the hypocrisy of politicians voicing concerns over a situation that they themselves are directly responsible for is hardly unexpected.

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Boeing and Lockmart are credible. SpaceX is less so.

    Boeing and LM are good companies, but when was the last time they flew a spacecraft they owned?

    SpaceX may not be the ultimate winner in CCDev, but they are the furthest along. Boeing is doing drop tests of the CST-100 from a truck, whereas SpaceX launched their Dragon and then recovered it from space. Big difference. It will be even a wider gap of accomplishment when SpaceX launches their C2/C3 flight to the ISS in February.

    You do realize that most of the growth and innovation comes from new companies in the U.S.? Why are you against that?

  • MrEarl

    Das said:
    “Actually, SpaceX could produce a manned launch for nearly zero additional money. The only thing that prevents the current Dragon spacecraft from taking people to orbit, with safety similar to STS, is the lack of seats and an instrument panel.”

    Hold on there SpaceX fanboy, two filghts of a new LV and one flight of a boilerplate capsule does not put them anywhere near the point of launching people in that thing. You also forgot the minor issue of crew excape.
    Nobody is is near ready to provide crew transport services, that’s why the CCDev program needs way more than the $300/$400 million authorized.

  • Das Boese

    MrEarl wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Hold on there SpaceX fanboy, two filghts of a new LV and one flight of a boilerplate capsule(…)

    The Dragon that launched and reentered was an entirely functional spacecraft capable of independent attitude and orbit control, missing only some minor systems. It was not “boilerplate”.

    You also forgot the minor issue of crew excape.

    I didn’t. Hence the statement “with safety similar to STS”, which also did not posess a crew escape system, its only safety edge being a longer launch history.

    Nobody is is near ready to provide crew transport services, that’s why the CCDev program needs way more than the $300/$400 million authorized.

    With the current level of funding, nobody is near ready to provide crew transport services that would satisfy the requirements from NASA. Which is the main point of the article we’re discussing and the previous one, did you read them at all?

  • amightywind

    Why are you against that?

    I don’t want to see SpaceX cronyism rewarded. SpaceX would love to wear the mantle of innovation. Too bad it doesn’t fit! The F9 ain’t no iPad! It is a bad excuse for a rocket from the 1960′s.

    but when was the last time they flew a spacecraft they owned?

    When I look at the flat out competence and professionalism with which MSL was launched, or any of our recent high value spacecraft, I can’t help but wonder why Lockmart or Boeing don’t have a more prominent role in ISS resupply. Again, in the upside down world of Obama, it is not what you do, or how well you do it, but about who you are.

    …nearly zero additional money…

    ‘Nearly’ is the operative word. What is zero to a guy whose personal expenses are $200K per month? Watch your wallets America!

    It will be even a wider gap of accomplishment when SpaceX

    Weren’t you just criticizing the entrenched incumbents? Your hypocrisy is breathtaking. Orbital is right on their heels, and I am cheering for them.

  • Coastal Ron

    MrEarl wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    …two filghts of a new LV and one flight of a boilerplate capsule…

    Just to be clear, the first Falcon 9 flight had a Dragon boilerplate on top. The second Falcon 9 flight had a functional Dragon that maneuvered in space and made a controlled and successful return to Earth.

    You also forgot the minor issue of crew excape.

    No one forgets that, and SpaceX has stated that they plan to use their CRS deliveries to validate many of their systems – both Dragon and Falcon 9.

    The other CCDev participants will be using a known good launch vehicle (Atlas V), so they won’t have to worry about that aspect. However their spacecraft won’t have anywhere near the amount of validation that SpaceX will with their Dragon capsule.

    Here’s another way to look at the situation:

    - By the end of 2014, SpaceX will have flown their Falcon 9 rocket 16 or more times, and their Dragon spacecraft ten times, with nine of them mating to the ISS.

    - By the end of 2014, Atlas V should have had 50+ flights, but the CST-100, Dream Chaser and Blue Origin Biconic will not have flown, but might be getting ready to.

    I’m not saying that SpaceX will be one of the ultimate NASA crew providers, but they will have a much more mature system than any other competitor by the end of 2014, which I think will be the deadline for choosing a U.S. provider. That combined with their pricing makes them a tough challenger on all aspects of a potential RFP.

  • common sense

    @ MrEarl wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    You’re wrong… and a little right.

    If there was no requirement for an escape system, just like Shuttle has flown for so many years, then SpaceX would be able to fly a crew real soon. Provided of course they have a few more uncrewed flights.

    The problem is developing the escape system to answer NASA requirements.

    You don’t have to be a SpaceX fanboy to know that… And I believe is what Das Boese was alluding at…

  • Vladislaw

    amightywind wrote:

    “I don’t want to see SpaceX cronyism rewarded.”

    But of course you have no problem at all with billion dollar cronyism be rewarded to ATK Lockmart and Boeing for constellation and SLS.

    It is only when you talk about the few million going towards SpaceX where “cronyism” is some sort of a problem. Doesn’t matter that Boeing spends on lobbying more in one year than SpaceX has spent in their entire history.

    The feds could blow through 3 trillion in subsidies and cronyism to every company on the planet but if one dollar went to SpaceX it would be a problem with you. …. well at least your consistant in your warped views.

  • The only thing that prevents the current Dragon spacecraft from taking people to orbit, with safety similar to STS, is the lack of seats and an instrument panel.

    Also a life-support system.

  • reader

    Hall suggested that NASA accelerate the competition by perhaps doing away with the competition that industry appears eager to support.

    Brilliant, this ALWAYS works so well. We have a long list of DOD and other contracts to show what happens after you take away competitive pressure. Just a string of spectacular successes.

    Like, even CEV/Orion was supposed to be a fly-off back in Steidle days, look how well that worked out for Constellation once they changed to sole source.

  • DCSCA

    @Coastal Ron wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 11:32 am

    “Better to let capitalism take it’s course, and let the stronger solutions prevail.” <– In which case America's space program would never have gotten off the ground, as the 80-plus year history of modern rocketry you choose to ignore repeatedly shows you. Of course, it soared in the movies– see 'Destination Moon' for a business plan every capitalist could embrace. Fiction, of course. The discredited and failed policies of supply-side 'Reaganomics' will never fuel human expansion out into the space.

    @Rand Simberg wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 3:24 pm
    "The only thing that prevents the current Dragon spacecraft from taking people to orbit, with safety similar to STS, is the lack of seats and an instrument panel… "Also a life-support system.""

    Which is why Dragons will never carry crews to the ISS- it's simply not an economical enterprise at this time. They're about 10 years too late. Hauling cargo is their best bet. And time's a wastin'.

    @ROBERT OLER wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 8:52 am

    "A little of this will matter when at some point SpaceX gets to ISS…"

    Tick-tock, tick-tock. Another tepid press release.

  • MrEarl

    CS, Ron and Das a.k.a SpaceX Fanboys:
    I want to see SpaceX, Boeing SNC and the rest succeed too BUT:
    You can’t compare Dragon, as is, to the shuttle because the shuttle did have contigencies for abort in some instances while right now Dracon does not. The first 3 or 4 flights of the shuttle at least had ejector seats, for what it’s worth, Dragon doesen’t even have that right now. As Rand states, Dragon doesen’t even have life support yet.
    The real fight right now should be for full funding CCDev, not to push one or the other company as the sole source.

  • MrEarl

    Good signs from NASA:
    “We would like to carry two providers, at a minimum, through this period, or actually more,” Gerstenmaier said. “We think competition is a key piece.” (from an artical on Spaceflightnow.com, enphesis mine.)

  • common sense

    @ MrEarl wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    “You can’t compare Dragon, as is, to the shuttle because the shuttle did have contigencies for abort in some instances while right now Dracon does not. ”

    This only is related to mission ops and does not require any hardware development. The Shuttle had gears and Dragon has chutes. Where they abort does not require any hardware. Further the contingencies aborts were, of course, based on no loss of vehicle. Similar assumption can be made for a capsule with different scenarios. Nothing to do with building an escape system.

    “The first 3 or 4 flights of the shuttle at least had ejector seats, for what it’s worth, Dragon doesen’t even have that right now.”

    How fast do you think you can eject? I believe the fastest “safe” ejection occurred at no more than Mach 3. And that does not mean you could eject at Mach 3 from a Shuttle. So even if you were to eject on ascent you would not be able to cover most of the ascent. I suspect the ejection seats were mainly there for on-pad aborts. But it does not change the fact that Shuttle flew most of its life without any escape system. Why do we need one now? You must also know that an escape system is far from the panacea. It might add complexity that makes your overall vehicle less safe. I know it MUST be designed correctly. That is where the cost comes about… Etc. I already argued that line about system integration a million times and I won’t again. I’ll leave it to you to figure.

    “As Rand states, Dragon doesen’t even have life support yet.”

    So? Does that mean it is not designed? That it would take 5 years? Come on.

    “The real fight right now should be for full funding CCDev, not to push one or the other company as the sole source.”

    Yes. On that we do agree. And Congress again is failing at its job, their vision blurred by self serving interests. But what would you expect?

  • Fred Willett

    @amightywind
    The total of all COTS and CCdev funds SpaceX will receive (they haven’t earnt it all yet) is $471M. Most of it allocated under Bush, not Obama.
    With this small ammount of money SpaceX has developed the Falcon 9 lv and the Dragon cargo spacecraft and begun work on crewed Dragon.
    As well SpaceX had to put in a lot of their own money, and accept the bulk of the risk.
    Compare this to ATK who burnt through the better part of $10B on Ares 1, achieved nothing, and did it all on cost plus contracts without risking a dime of their own money.
    Or better yet look at the SLS. Slated to cost $18B. The contractors risk nothing. It’s all being done on cost plus contracts. And if – more likely when – the program gets cancelled because as Booz Allen pointed out there are great holes in the budget, the contractors won’t loose a dime. It’s the US tax payer who bears the total risk and the total cost of the program.
    The two models are totally different. With cost plus the tax payer takes all the risk and the contractor takes all the money. With a Space Act Agreement the company takes the bulk of the risk, pays more than half of the cost and NASA gets a new service. All this at a fraction of the cost of a cost plus procurement.
    Almightwind, the facts reguarding the nature and costs associated with these two funding methods have been pointed out to you on multiple occasions. Ignoring the facts and disseminating disinformation in order to score cheap political points does not help your case. It just makes you seem ignorant.

  • Larson

    The F9 ain’t no iPad! It is a bad excuse for a rocket from the 1960′s.

    And what, pray tell, would a rocket from the 2010′s look like? Would it use solid boosters, core components, and first stage engines from the 1970′s? Or would it start with a clean sheet design drawing on industry and NASA experiences from the past four decades?

    Slightly more on topic, Doug Messier of parabolic arc has a pretty good reaction to the hypocrisy of Hall and friends: http://www.parabolicarc.com/2011/12/15/hall-to-ccdev-competitors-combine-your-bids-to-save-time/

    Hall really is either totally clueless about the point of Commercial Crew or is intentionally trying to sabotage it.

  • MrEarl

    Ok fanboys, :-) I think we agree on the important things, fully fund CCDev and competition is key.

  • Larson wrote:

    Hall really is either totally clueless about the point of Commercial Crew or is intentionally trying to sabotage it.

    When Hall assumed the chair of this committee at the beginning of 2011, the Dallas Morning-News ran a story about him and said he was known for being fiercely protective of Texas pork.

    I think that’s about as far as you have to go to understand his motivations.

  • common sense

    @ MrEarl wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Hey what the heck! Twice we agreed!

    I am going to have to be careful not to vote like you come 2012. I need to stay sharp, on the edge… ;)

    All right. If anything, Happy Holidays every one!

    Yeah even you two amightywind and DCSCA. This forum would not be quite the same without you two.

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    I don’t want to see SpaceX cronyism rewarded.

    But entrenched aerospace corporations with bigger lobbying budgets are OK. Talk about hypocrisy.

    The F9 ain’t no iPad! It is a bad excuse for a rocket from the 1960′s.

    Apparently you’re unaware of how technology progresses. You drive a truck that is effectively the same design as what your grandfather drove – why do you buy a new model? Boeing is coming out with a new model 737 that is effectively the same design as what they built in 1967. What’s the difference?

    Sure the Falcon 9 is a kerolox rocket, just like Atlas has been since the 60′s, but the sophistication of the Falcon 9 over the Atlas is huge. Falcon 9 even out shines the Atlas V of today, which has to use Russian engines and costs 3X more for the same payload destination. For sure Atlas V is no iPad.

    …I can’t help but wonder why Lockmart or Boeing don’t have a more prominent role in ISS resupply. Again, in the upside down world of Obama…

    Do you have memory issues? Bush/Griffin awarded SpaceX their COTS/CRS contracts, not Obama.

    Oh, and Boeing and Lockheed Martin did submit bids for COTS, but all they submitted were existing rockets (Atlas & Delta) with existing cargo vehicles (ATV and HTV). They proposed NOTHING to lower the cost to supply the ISS – NO INNOVATION.

    Do you know what Disruptive Technology is? You should educate yourself so you won’t make these silly technology comparisons.

  • Coastal Ron

    DCSCA wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    In which case America’s space program would never have gotten off the ground, as the 80-plus year history of modern rocketry you choose to ignore repeatedly shows you.

    Forgetting the commercial satellite industry again, aren’t we? You always seem to forget that satellites, which originally were the domain of governments, now have a thriving industry for both manufacturing and launch SEPARATE from government.

    Commercial cargo is set to happen next and contracts have already been awarded, and it’s easy to see where NASA and the U.S. aerospace industry are going – easy if you had any talent for this type of knowledge, and you won’t find any of these companies in “Destination Moon”.

    “Also a life-support system…. Which is why Dragons will never carry crews to the ISS

    America was not built by people like you, that’s for sure. And if you only kept your ears open, you’d know that CCDev-1 was already working on this issue – a common system for all vehicles.

    it’s simply not an economical enterprise at this time

    You say this a lot, but you never provide anything to back up your “calculations”, especially since the four companies in CCDev-2 disagree with you. All hat no cattle yet again?

    They’re about 10 years too late.

    What was 10 years ago? Again with the allegations and no proof. It’s hard to figure you out – all hat no cattle, boy that cries wolf, or Chicken Little. So many, and they all seem to apply… ;-)

  • Das Boese

    Rand Simberg wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Also a life-support system.

    I thought Dragon’s environmental system was already designed for live cargo, but yeah, a bunch of humans probably have higher requirements than some bugs in a box.

    But yeah, full funding and competition is crucial, full ack.

    DCSCA wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Which is why Dragons will never carry crews to the ISS- it’s simply not an economical enterprise at this time. They’re about 10 years too late. Hauling cargo is their best bet. And time’s a wastin’.

    You win the non sequitur of the day award.

  • Malmesbury

    The reason that people are enthused by COTS/Commerical Crew is the results so far from COTS. Falcon 9/Dragon, Antares/Cygnus and now Atlas 5/??? (quite probably CST100). Given the cost of the program the actual results, in solid hardware are remarkable.

    We really, really like no-buck-rogers-no-bucks. Give em their cheque in the ISS airlock, I say….

    There is no possibility, by the way, that any commercial crew entry will fly with people, without an escape system.

    The problem is that they are a threat to an established order. The reason for the cut to commercial is fairly obvious, to me. The protectors of SLS/Orion find the idea on multiple crew/cargo systems frightening. Orion is sold as being a backup for ISS access. If you have 2 commercial crew plus one COTS only (Cygnus) then this sounds ridiculous.

    The SLS protectors on the political side see commercial as being too greedy – “you’ve can have one slot, you can’t have them all!”,

  • Martijn Meijering

    Boeing and Lockmart are credible. SpaceX is less so.

    While you, amightywind, aren’t credible at all.

    Also note that SpaceX is ahead of both Boeing and LM on the crew capsule front.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark R. Whittington wrote @ December 16th, 2011 at 12:00 am

    “OLer, by launch vehicle I lumped in launch vehicle and spacecraft development. Sorry about the confusion. In any event, a great suggestion…..”

    it is an interesting suggestion…and I have not read the actual statement but based on what you are saying…

    In general for mature systems development I much prefer fee for services which is what commercial crew and cargo are. There is really not a lot of “high tech R&D” in these systems; they are developing operational systems which are more business system development then anything else.

    The beauty in my view of the commercial crew/cargo notion is that if at anytime the various companies who are providing that service cannot perform…the money stops

    A second method of doing this where the government wants/needs to own the assets (like tanker planes) is fixed price contracts. The notion of what it takes to convert a B767 (not my first choice it is an old plane) to a military tanker is well understood and Boeing with the government should be able to come to xome fixed terms of doing this which should allow a fixed price contract.

    The question might be is how to do R&D…and again it strikes me that the entire notion of what is being done should be understood…

    If the government is trying to develop the Lunar Module where there is little information on what technology is needed then cost plus might be the only way to go…but it is an expensive road and the effort like that should only be pursued when the needs of the government are overwhelming.

    A “cost sharing” might be the way to go if the R&D is designed to produce a near term breakthrough in technology which is then going to be advantageous to the company that participates in the research and development. A reasonable example of this might be the development of the Dash 80/tanker effort which produced the KC-135.

    I honestly see the need for both types of R&D effort but in my view the “cost plus stuff” should be limited to very well defined efforts that are monitored for “going off the rails” in terms of cost verses value.

    Thus the opposition you have to commercial crew/cargo and support of SLS is puzzling to me.

    There is nothing really “research and devlopment” of SLS…developing a five segment solid after decades of flying four segment ones is not developing the lunar module in the 60′s. There is some modest R&D in the J-2 effort but compared to what it took to build the J-2 the R&D seems trivial…Orion is really an Apollo knockoff…

    yet the entire effort is cost plus way over budget and under performing…and you support it. (and with no definable mission). It is an effort where sloth, failure, and non performance are rewarded.

    CCC is on the other hand a tightly focused fee for performance effort where failure is not rewarded.

    Can you explain that to me? RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    Mark Whittington wrote:
    “Others. So by your definition, Solyndra was not a government subsidy because the government was providing a guaranteed loan for a product–ie solar panels. For that matter, ethanol subsidies are not subsidies because it creates a product as well.

    I guess it is all a matter of what is is.”

    it is…

    really Mark you and all the other Solyndra drum beaters would be more convincing if you had also railed against the tens of billions (perhaps hundreds of Billions) that folks like Haliburton made as war profiteers in the process killing over 50 American service personnel by shoddy work.

    I dont have any trouble with government subsidies for things which are deemed in the national interest. For instance if there were no government subsidies for paved roads, most southern red states would be in the grapes of wrath stage…

    it would strike me that having some US company develop a viable home solar cell industry that could assist in local power development would be a good thing…on the other hand we can spend trillions in a country that we will never get back…you supported that.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Hall has had a power failure in his mind for sometime…and his latest suggestion is about as goofy as they come.

    The entire notion of the competition between providers for cargo and crew is to accelerate the opening of the space frontier and lower cost.

    on the 108 anniversary of private enterprise inventing flight in this country, you would think that Hall would have a tad of the private enterprise rhetoric surface into action.

    RGO

  • Byeman

    :but the sophistication of the Falcon 9 over the Atlas is huge. Falcon 9 even out shines the Atlas V of today, which has to use Russian engines and costs 3X more for the same payload destination.”

    Wrong on all accounts.
    RD-180 is more sophisticated than Merlin
    RL-10 is more sophisticated than Merlin
    Avionics are a push
    Atlas can put more to GTO (which is its deisign point)

    Atlas is the best of US launch vehicles. NASA, USAF, NRO and Commercial prefer it.

    ISS logistics and small spacecraft of large constellations are not a ringing endorsements of a launch vehicle.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Atlas is the best of US launch vehicles.

    But is it also the most economical vehicle? You have said many times that Falcon’s prices will rise, but are you confident its costs will exceed those of Atlas eventually?

  • Coastal Ron

    Byeman wrote @ December 18th, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Atlas is the best of US launch vehicles. NASA, USAF, NRO and Commercial prefer it.

    That is the situation as of today where Atlas V and Delta IV are the only choices, and expensive choices they are. The real cost of an Atlas V 401, with all the various payments made to ULA, is somewhere around 3-5X more than Falcon 9.

    When you don’t have a choice, then you shrug off the amount as the cost of doing business. But you can see that some in the Air Force are willing to look at alternatives that can save them $100M or more per launch – you can buy a lot of military grade equipment at that rate.

    Now you can argue, correctly, that the Falcon 9 doesn’t have the payload size flexibility of the Atlas V with it’s strap-on SRB’s. However that flexibility will be challenged when Falcon Heavy becomes operational, since even if they fly it 1/4 full it will still cost less than the least costly Atlas V (low end Falcon Heavy = $80M).

    The reason ULA is pushing so hard on the block buy is that they know they only have a few years before SpaceX gets approved by the Air Force for launch business. My guess would be that ULA will loose half their order backlog within a couple of years after that if they don’t get serious with major price reductions. I think Stratolaunch will put some pressure on them too if the Air Force decides to expand their small-sat program.

    I don’t want ULA to go away, as I want robust competition in the launch market, but they need to get serious about how they will compete long term.

  • DCSCA

    “Orion is really an Apollo knockoff…”

    Apollo worked.

  • Apollo worked.

    Yes, it worked to ensure that we haven’t returned to the moon in almost forty years.

  • really Mark you and all the other Solyndra drum beaters would be more convincing if you had also railed against the tens of billions (perhaps hundreds of Billions) that folks like Haliburton made as war profiteers in the process killing over 50 American service personnel by shoddy work.

    This is an idiotic comparison.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Yes, it worked to ensure that we haven’t returned to the moon in almost forty years.

    Still, the problem with Orion is not the basic design. It’s the fact that it is too expensive to develop, too large and uneconomical for commercial use and not even available for commercial use. If they were to spin off an Orion Lite, that would be fine.

  • Vladislaw

    Why is the comparison wrong? Haliburton got loan guarantees also:

    “Without any previous business experience, Cheney leaves the Department of Defense to become the CEO of Halliburton Co., one of the biggest oil-services companies in the world. He will be chairman of the company from 1996 to October 1998 and from February to August 2000. Under Cheney’s leadership, Halliburton moves up from 73rd to 18th on the Pentagon’s list of top contractors. The company garners $2.3 billion in U.S. government contracts, which almost doubles the $1.2 billion it earned from the government previously. Most of the contracts are granted by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.3 Halliburton’s overseas operations go from 51% to 68% of its revenue. According to the Center for Public Integrity,4 under Cheney’s leadership the company also receives $1.5 billion worth of assistance from government-sponsored agencies such as OPIC (Overseas Private Investment Corporation) and the Export-Import Bank, a huge increase compared to the $100 million that the company had received in federal loans and guarantees in the five years prior to Cheney’s arrival. Years later, during the 2000 campaign in a broadcasted vice presidential candidates’ debate with Joe Lieberman, Cheney asserts that “the government has absolutely nothing to do” with his financial success as chairman of Halliburton Co.5 Halliburton pleads guilty to criminal charges of violating a U.S. ban on exports to Libya by selling Col. Qaddafi six pulse neutron generators, devices that can be used to detonate nuclear weapons.6 Halliburton pays a $3.8 million penalty to settle alleged violations of the U.S. trade ban.”

    http://www.halliburtonwatch.org/about_hal/chronology.html

  • ROBERT OLER

      Rand Simberg wrote @ December 19th, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Only because that waste is something that doesn’t bother people who think like you do..

    Waste is waste. RGO

  • Only because that waste is something that doesn’t bother people who think like you do..

    No, because you’re idiotically comparing a service provided to the government with a subsidy to a supposedly commercial firm. I am happy to not provide loan guarantees to Halliburton or anyone, but Halliburton is not a Solyndra. SpaceX isn’t a Solyndra even more (though Tesla can at least be usefully compared to it).

  • DCSCA

    Rand Simberg wrote @ December 19th, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Wrong, of course. Suggest you revisit lunar mission manifests. Plenty of spacecraft have returned to the lunar vicinity since 1972.

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