Congress, NASA

House appropriators question Bolden on Mars, commercial crew, and… shuttles

NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s two-and-a-half-hour appearance before the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee covered some expected ground, including some heated discussions about the agency’s planetary science program as well as questions about its commercial crew program. But a hearing that long also allowed members to delve into other topics, from cybersecurity to China to an issue that’s still a sore point for some members: the disposition of the retired shuttle orbiters.

The big issue, though, was planetary science, and in particular the future of the agency’s Mars exploration program after NASA withdrew from the joint ExoMars program with Europe. “I understand that the budget pressures require you to make cuts to your science programs, but I don’t understand why those cuts are overwhelmingly in planetary science,” subcommittee chairman Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) said to Bolden immediately after the administrator finished his opening statement. “The area that seemed to be actually in the best shape was our Mars exploration, contrary to popular belief,” Bolden responded, citing the missions currently at Mars, as well as Mars Science Lab (en route to Mars) and the MAVEN orbiter, slated for launch in 2013.

He said the “smaller, focused” missions expected to emerge from the agency’s restructuring of its Mars exploration program would still be able to support an eventual Mars sample return mission, a top goal of planetary scientists. “We never had a Mars sample return mission within our budgets,” he claimed. “People think that, by stepping away from ExoMars, we are stepping away from Mars sample return. There was no Mars sample return in the two missions being planned for ExoMars.” In fact, the 2018 ExoMars mission was designed to cache samples as the first step of a multi-mission sample return effort, with future missions to take the sample and return it to Earth—something Bolden did acknowledge.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who has been the most outspoken congressional critic of the proposed planetary science budget cuts, got into an impassioned debate with Bolden later in the hearing about Mars. The cut in the Mars program, he said, “is a major step backwards for NASA and the nation” because, with human space exploration and the launch of JWST still years off, “the Mars program is the key driver of public support for the space program.”

Schiff pressed Bolden on who made the decision to terminate NASA’s participation in ExoMars, trying to determine if the decision came from within NASA or from the White House. “Congressman, the decision came from me,” Bolden said, refusing to put any of the blame on the White House or the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in particular. “I asked, how are we going to do a Mars sample return based on the budget we have currently,” he said. He later admitted that he was initially under the impression that ExoMars was was a sample return mission, and thus had doubts when he found it was only the first step in a multi-mission strategy. “It was a successive understanding of our posture fiscally, and a successive understanding on my part of our technical capability, that told me that I could not, and as I told [ESA Director-General] Jean-Jacques Dordain, that I can not in good conscience allow them to continue to think that the United States is going to be there for them on a sample return mission in 2028 that we cannot support, we cannot afford.”

That explanation did not mollify Schiff. “Mr. Administrator, I can’t in good conscience support a budget that says that America’s days of leadership in space science are limited,” he said. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) was similarly critical of the planetary budget. “The budget that the president has put forward is clearly putting the best days of planetary exploration behind us,” he said. “It’s visionless. It’s just really—I just grieve for my country, I grieve for NASA.”

Later in the hearing, Wolf addressed commercial crew, in particular questioning, as other have in the past, whether it would be more expedient, and less expensive, for NASA to downselect to a smaller number of companies now. “The administration believes that maximizing competition is a cost control measure, however, it also ensures that we will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on companies who will never take crew to the International Space Station” because of technical issues or a lack of demand for crew transportation services, Wolf said, asking if it made sense to downselect to two companies.

Bolden said, as he has previously, that it made little sense to downselect to one or two companies at this stage of development. “So there’s no effort of making this basically a wartime proposal, bringing together the best minds in the four companies or the three companies or the two companies now, knowing that everyone would get something and be a participant,” Wolf said. Bolden said companies have been encouraged to collaborate, but “I can’t mandate that the companies come together.”

Wolf pondered the priority of commercial crew versus other programs, like Mars exploration. Referring to comments by Schiff and Culberson, “I tend to feel their concern, because I want America to be number one. So if we are even reasonably concerned that the commercial crew program may not deliver in time to serve the International Space Station, then I guess the question somebody would have to ask—and I’m not saying that I’m opposed to it—but why should taxpayers spend an additional four billion dollars subsidizing companies to develop these systems when other programs that are meritorious have to be cut. Is it time to revisit some of the assumptions about the commercial crew program?”

While members spent a lot of time discussing Mars, commercial crew, and related issues, one member was interested in a past topic: NASA’s decision nearly a year ago to award shuttle orbiters to sites in California, Florida, New York, and Virginia. Rep. Steve Austria (R-OH) spent about ten minutes questioning Bolden on the shuttle site selection process, concerned that the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton—in his current district—had been slighted. Citing a scoring error in the rating process found after the fact in a NASA Inspector General report, Austria said it “raises concerns on my part as to the integrity and how accurate this process was.” Bolden defended the choice, noting there were “significant shortcomings on the proposal” from the Air Force museum, “not the least of which was funding.” He also said that NASA was providing quarterly reports on the disposition of the orbiters to Congress, as required in the FY12 appropriations bill, and that NASA may soon be relieved of the responsibility of providing additional such reports.

43 comments to House appropriators question Bolden on Mars, commercial crew, and… shuttles

  • amightywind

    I am glad Bolden is digging in his heels on ExoMars. It is one of the few positive things he’s done. The US has benefited greatly by frequent, more modest Mars missions. Indeed, such long term discipline is un-USlike. Let’s hope that the successful strategy continues. An expensive international tie up is the last thing we need.

  • Will wonders never cease! Mr. amightywind and I agree for a change. ExoMars was doomed from the start. At every turn we were backpeddling, scaling down the whole project until we eventually walked away from the table.

    ExoMars/Sample return is far too out in the future and co$tly in this current fiscal age. There are so many more discovery class missions that we could send legions of spacecraft to Mars and achieve great results under fiscal constraints.

    During this time we can advance HSF with modest deep-space goals, fine tuning our experience on the Moon, test harvesting techniques, and space tugs to and from the surface. All the while inching ever farther out, utilizing L2 waypoint stations, having learned from ISS.

    “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves” -from Contact

    Gary Anderson
    North East Regional Director
    Tea Party in Space (TPiS)
    for the President Andrew Gasser

  • SpaceColonizer

    I’m with Bolden on this one. Taking a break to rethink our strategy for robotic Mars exploration shouldn’t be reacted to with such fury. It’s like a crying child that lost his/her balloon, and when the parent says “It’s OK, we’ll get you another balloon.” The child screams out “I don’t want another balloon! I want MY balloon!”

  • Explorer08

    Describing Bolden as “visionless” seems right on target. He appears to be the ventriloquist’s dummy. He is visionless because his boss is visionless. Unfortunately, so are his boss’s opponents on the other side of the aisle. Windy is against internationalism but perhaps that’s the only way, going forward, any real science will get done. Go ESA!!

  • MrEarl

    Quite a different take on Bolden’s preformance than that of SpaceRef:
    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1627

  • Space Cadet

    @ Gary Anderson: Did you happen to notice that this budget did even more damage to the Discovery program – with Discovery 13 not open for proposals until 2015 at the earliest. Same for New Frontiers (medium-class missions).

  • “Is it time to revisit some of the assumptions about the commercial crew program?”
    As usual for the Alice In Wonderland world of Congressional politics, the wrong question was asked. It should have been:
    “Is it time to revisit some of the assumptions about the SLS?”, since it’s potential for actual missions is farther in the future (even assuming the best and the most wildly optimistic of fiscal conditions). But that would be stepping on his fellow politicians’ pork. You don’t shrift the other politician’s pork or he may start coming after yours. Thus, his positon is at odds with his earlier statement, “I tend to feel their concern, because I want America to be number one.” There’s no more effective way to cede American space leadership than to feed SLS and other programs by cannibalizing Commercial Crew.

  • @Space Cadet: Yes I did. As TPiS spoke at length over the last year warning JWST was going to ‘kill science’ at NASA. JWST is clearly where the finger needs to be pointed. A half Billion (with a “B”) in earmark funds is going to leave a nasty bruise on everything else within planetary science. We warned, few in Congress cared.

    I have personally seen several references to people being upset about Discovery 13. This is all squarely on JWST’s proverbial shoulders. As for TPiS, we are similarly concerned with Rep. Frank Wolf’s recent idea that commercial crew budget should save Mars budget. “What?” is all we can say at this point. Apples saving oranges, a typical response from Congress.

    Gary Anderson
    North East Regional Director
    Tea Party in Space (TPiS)
    for the President Andrew Gasser

  • Robert G. Oler

    Explorer08 wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Describing Bolden as “visionless” seems right on target. >>

    No not really. in the terms of classic “vision” Charlie is about right on…Politicians in general and mostly GOP right wing ones in specific have a notion of vision that is more to suit their politics then anything else.

    A classic statement of vision is Ronaldus the Great argument for the space station or for engaging the Soviet Union in confrontation …and bringing them down…it (to use his words) “Opened up possibilities for the future”. NOW the reality is that most of the possibilities are bad…but it opened up a dynamic which could bring good change (and still might) whereas the status quo has little or no ability to change.

    The current definition of vision in space exploration by the right wing is more or less “replace one government program with the next and call it vision”. What Reagan could not imagine is that the space station program would go on so long and be managed by simply turds…that it simply devolved into another government entitlement program.

    Yet there is almost no reason to suspect that a “NASA project to (go to the Moon, Mars anywhere)” would simply not go the same route.

    What Bolden is trying to hang on to is a “vision” of a dynamic future in human efforts in space…not one where the “30 year plan just keeps getting moved out”

    RGO

  • Aberwys

    Go ESA! They’ll keep on chugging without us. EDL and rocket have been secured.

    Now, what will JPL’s EDL-ers work on post-MSL?

    Is Bolden’s plan to liquidate JPL, because that’s what this decision will do!

  • Aberwys

    Btw, isn’t anyone else bothered by the OMB statements? Since when does OMB dictate science?

  • Robert G. Oler

    MrEarl wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Quite a different take on Bolden’s preformance than that of SpaceRef:
    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1627>>

    what is funny to me is that almost none of this matters…the sequestering that is going to occur, the “non” progress of SLS etc just make this whole thing an excersize in stupidity.

    It is people arguing over how to stretch out the “30 year plan” RGO

  • well

    Wait. No talk of the gap? I’m shocked, shocked.

    It’s almost as if that was an expedient talking point that’s been replaced by another expedient talking point, or series of them. Shocking!

  • amightywind

    Is Bolden’s plan to liquidate JPL, because that’s what this decision will do!

    How do you figure? There will still be missions for all upcoming launch opportunities. The ExoMars Rover is actually a large step backwards from MSL. Why waste out time?

    amightywind
    Tea Partiers for Space
    Northern Command

  • Robert G. Oler

    http://discovermagazine.com/2012/apr/14-back-to-the-final-frontier/article_view?b_start:int=1&-C=

    an extroadinarily WEAK article. among the nonesense is the “doubling” of NASA’s budget as if money is the issue (it is not) and then goofy Chinese pandering

    “The country’s global Beidou satellite navigation and positioning system will be finished by 2020, comprising five geosynchronous satellites (in 24-hour orbits that keep them always over the same spot) and 30 non-geo satellites. It is likely to far supersede the U.S. GPS system on which we and the world have long depended.”

    a statement with no basis in reality.

    WEAK RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    Explorer08 wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Describing Bolden as “visionless” seems right on target.

    Since when is the chief qualification of a NASA Administrator that they have “vision”?

    I thought their job was to execute what Congress has funded NASA to do, and communicate status? Oh sure they have some latitude, like in choosing how designated money is to be apportioned within budget line items.

    They are given power by the President, and given money by Congress. Where does “vision” enter into the equation?

    Now maybe I’m wrong, but if you think so please provide a list of NASA Administrators that had vision, what their vision was, and whether their vision made a difference.

  • Aberwys

    amightywind wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Is Bolden’s plan to liquidate JPL, because that’s what this decision will do!

    How do you figure? There will still be missions for all upcoming launch opportunities. The ExoMars Rover is actually a large step backwards from MSL. Why waste out time?

    Windy-tell me _what_ opportunities will involve Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) in the next 5-10 year timeframe for Mars? The new mission everyone’s referring to as the next Mars mission is an orbiter.

    Bigger picture, there are no EDL missions in sight. So, there goes another critical capability…

  • amightywind

    Windy-tell me _what_ opportunities will involve Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) in the next 5-10 year timeframe for Mars?

    How about this. Don’t be so lazy.

  • I posted this yesterday in the earlier thread, but for those who missed it you can click here to watch the hearing.

    Explorer08 wrote:

    Describing Bolden as “visionless” seems right on target.

    He has a vision. It’s just one you don’t like. You’re acting like a troll.

    Robert G. Oler wrote:

    What Bolden is trying to hang on to is a “vision” of a dynamic future in human efforts in space…not one where the “30 year plan just keeps getting moved out”

    I think he’s been very clear about his vision. It’s full utilization of the ISS and all the research we can do in microgravity. I realize you don’t think there’s much to be gained in microgravity. I disagree. I suspect that Boeing, Bigelow, SpaceX and all the other aerospace companies disagree too. In any case, by the end of the decade we will have an industry that no other nation on Earth can compete with, and that’s full exploitation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO). That’s the vision, and I’m very excited by it. I also suspect that Russia, China and India are quite frightened of it because they know they don’t have the money and/or technology to match it.

    what is funny to me is that almost none of this matters…the sequestering that is going to occur, the “non” progress of SLS etc just make this whole thing an excersize in stupidity.

    The impression I got from watching yesterday’s exercise in absurdity is that Charlie has finally figured out that these hearings are all for show.

    For example, outside of Rep. Schiff no one else cares much about ExoMars. Why? Because it’s not in their district.

    I thought Schiff was .. well, a pompous ass. He’s a lawyer by training and acted like he was a prosecutor in criminal court. Bolden knows no one will ride to Schiff’s rescue.

    And then there’s Rep. Culberson, who reached a new low for smarminess. I liked that Rep. Fattah showed some class in diplomatically taking Culberson to the woodshed.

    In any case, re sequestration, I think you’re right. This Congress won’t pass a FY 2013 budget until after the November election, if ever. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they dump it in the lap of the next Congress which takes office in January.

    Sooner or later, Congress has to face up to the reality that the only way to lower the deficit is to raise taxes while reducing spending. Obama realizes that all he has to do is run the ball into the line until year’s end and the Bush tax cuts expire. That essentially solves the problem.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Aberwys wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 12:59 pm
    “Since when does OMB dictate science?”

    Since always. Unless Congress overrules. OMB and Congress don’t dictate what’s the best science for science, but they dictate what science they want the nation to pay for, which is what they thereby dictate to be the best science for the nation.

    Coastal Ron wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 2:07 pm
    “They are given power by the President, and given money by Congress. Where does “vision” enter into the equation?”

    Let’s be honest. The administration budget is what comes out after the agencies confidentially submit their proposed plans. For FY14, those plans will be submitted to OMB this coming summer. The administration will be happy to announce those plans the following February and get a badge for “vision”, but the initial budget framework is what comes from the agencies (which are, of course, part of the Administration). An agency itself can only have so much “vision” when they have oppressive funding realities as well as oppressive political realities and oversight.

    You think Bolden can visionarily say, “OK, we’re going to double the budget this year. Can’t wait to ask!” ? You think Constellation originally came out of the Bush White House? Ah, can you see Cheney doing Ares, Orion, and Altair doodles on his notepad, and a visionary light bulb going off in his mind? “Hey, this might work!”

    Vision is a great idea that is a consensus between all players. That’s why Constellation was a great vision. Except some players were lying.

  • Coastal Ron

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Vision is a great idea that is a consensus between all players.

    It’s partly that, but I think it isn’t truly recognized except in hindsight.

    That’s why Constellation was a great vision.

    Constellation was the initial Moon portion of the Vision for Space Exploration – so do you mean the that or the VSE in general?

    Except some players were lying.

    You mean the inept management of the Constellation program? Or maybe it wasn’t a good vision. What’s the difference?

  • Googaw

    “an issue that’s still a sore point for some members: the disposition of the retired shuttle orbiters.”

    As junk, they’re still the same otherwise worthless political footballs as they were when they were flying.

    Can we take SLS straight from early development stage to fought-over cult relic status and forget about borrowing and taxing the many billions of dollars needed to actually try to fly them?

  • Philip Horzempa

    I too want to focus on the upcoming Sequestration. This is mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. It is the Law of the Land and must be taken into account by the Executive branch when October 1, 2012 rolls around. Unless Congress legislates otherwise, the federal agencies must not spend more than the Law dictates. Therefore, the panic should start this summer when the realization begins that NASA must soon sharply reduce spending in order to stay within the Law as it now stands. With a sequestration of 9% for the discretionary part of the budget, including Defense, NASA will see its top line drop to about $16 billion. This will cause great angst, but alternatives may be worse.
    Recently, a certain party has proposed that the non-Defense, discretionary budget be cut even more so that the DOD will not suffer sequestration. Since the DOD is slated to be targeted for 50% of the sequestration, one can see that NASA’s budget could drop to a total of about $14.5 billion if Defense is given a pass.
    My guess is that with both parties of our largely non-functional government at gridlock, they will let the sequestration stand. This means major cuts in both manned and unmanned divisions at NASA. Perhaps NASA cut back the Mars Program as a hedge against the forthcoming Sequestration. There must be someone in the Administration that sees this coming and is preparing for the coming tsunami.
    A NASA at $16 billion will probably only allow ongoing Space Science missions to continue. I would guess that all planning for future Discovery, New Frontiers and Explorer missions will be put on hold. This also could mean another evaluation as to whether to continue with JWST.
    As NASA shrinks, it is encouraging to see other countries stepping up to fill the gap, at least partially. ESA, India and China are all planning unmanned missions to the Moon and Mars. Their mission may not be as high-powered as NASA’s, but at least they will be something.

  • Googaw

    “by the end of the decade we will have an industry that no other nation on Earth can compete with, and that’s full exploitation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO). That’s the vision, and I’m very excited by it.”

    “Full exploitation”? What’s that supposed to mean? All the microgravity techniques ever to be discovered will be discovered and exploited by 2020? All the LEO orbits by that ultimate year will fill full up with big rings of glorious Bigelow space hotels sporting “No Vacancy” signs?

    The pseudo-commercial (NASA contractor and contractor-wannabe) talking points are getting both preposterously bombastic and hopelessly vague about their economic fantasies. Too much hanging out with your main or only customer NASA will do that to you.

    The real commercial space action, as anybody who is actually paying attention to real commerce knows, is in GEO. SpaceX, initially making the silly mistake of designing their Falcon 9 to go just to NASA’s only astronaut orbit, LEO, has recognized their mistake and is currently testing higher power engines that will take it to GTO (with an upper stage supplied to kick it from their to GEO).

    Why? Because that is what their private sector customers want, that why. In the startup world that’s called pivoting. Elon Musk made his billions in Silicon Valley and is quite familiar with the idea. Are you?

  • Coastal Ron

    Googaw wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    SpaceX, initially making the silly mistake of designing their Falcon 9 to go just to NASA’s only astronaut orbit, LEO, has recognized their mistake and is currently testing higher power engines that will take it to GTO (with an upper stage supplied to kick it from their to GEO).

    You are hallucinating. They have always offered the capability to send payloads to GTO. And you don’t have to believe me – view this SpaceX WayBackMachine archive page for Oct 1st 2005, shortly after they announced Falcon 9. 8,700kg to LEO, and 3,100kg to GTO.

    The Merlin 1D has also been part of their upgrade path – more power, fewer parts, lighter-weight. Are you assuming they wouldn’t pursue a better engine just because they were supporting LEO operations? Your twisted logic doesn’t make sense.

  • Googaw

    “They have always offered the capability to send payloads to GTO.”

    Then why didn’t they ever sell any trips to what is by far the most common commercial orbit until SES? You are hopelessly confusing marketing brochures with their actual capability. From the March 21st issue of AW & ST:

    As part of its deal with SpaceX, SES [SpaceX's first GEO customer] is requiring that the launch company demonstrate a new fairing that will fit its satellite, and to fly at least once with uprated Merlin engines that will meet its requirements.

    Clearly at SpaceX real commerce was playing second fiddle to its NASA contracts until recently. But with the new GEO-friendly capabilities for Falcon 9 this is hopefully now all water under the bridge. PayPal was famous for its pivot from a terrible market for its payment system (the primitive non-phone mobile devices then existing, which the vast majority of people outside Silicon Valley didn’t have) to a great market (EBay, where small businesses had a great need for a payment method cheaper than a credit card).

    That pivot made Mr. Musk a billionaire. Despite his rapture of the astronauts I don’t think he has forgotten about the value of pivoting. And SpaceX recently being dissed by block-headed astronauts, which caused Mr. Musk to cry on national TV, is another step in the 9-step process of curing him of his diaper-clad hero worship. He is in the process of learning that if SpaceX is to survive as an entity able to build to requirements other than NASA’s, it has to grow its real commerce business and to value that business over NASA’s easiest-orbit-from-Canaveral idiocy. Contrary to the astronaut cultists, the ISS orbit is a horrible place to try to do commerce. The actual private customers are elsewhere — mostly GEO.

  • DCSCA

    “… but why should taxpayers spend an additional four billion dollars subsidizing companies to develop these systems when other programs that are meritorious have to be cut. Is it time to revisit some of the assumptions about the commercial crew program?”

    Yep.

    ‘Nuff said.

  • Aberwys

    amightywind wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Windy-tell me _what_ opportunities will involve Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) in the next 5-10 year timeframe for Mars?

    How about this. Don’t be so lazy.

    InSight is one of three Discovery opportunities that has yet to be selected. The funds for this mission are under question. And, so that _you_ know, one Discovery class mission cannot keep the JPL EDL enterprise afloat.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Coastal Ron wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 8:29 pm
    “Constellation was the initial Moon portion of the Vision for Space Exploration – so do you mean the that or the VSE in general?

    Constellation was the implementation for VSE, and that implementation strategy originated wholly in NASA. So to the extent it was “visionary” (I didn’t say it was good, but it can be argued as being architecturally visionary), that vision came from NASA. VSE itself was pretty much just two thousand words in a Presidential address. Those words largely came out of the White House, and the vision therein can be credited to the White House, and not to NASA. Those words were the popular expression of rationale for having an architectural vision. You can’t have one without the other. My point is that when you blame NASA for not having “vision” you have to be careful what you’re asking for.

    “You mean the inept management of the Constellation program? Or maybe it wasn’t a good vision. What’s the difference?”

    Re lying, the fundamental lie was the pledge to support an implementation program for VSE. Could say that the Administration didn’t provide the support that Constellation said it needed, and could say that Constellation didn’t provide an accurate accounting of what would be needed. That lie is separable from the “vision” itself, whether the vision be the VSE or the Constellation architecture. Nothing “inept” about being told you’re going to get a large amount of money, and designing a program to spend it, then to learn that you’re not going to have anywhere near that amount.

  • He is in the process of learning that if SpaceX is to survive as an entity able to build to requirements other than NASA’s, it has to grow its real commerce business and to value that business over NASA’s easiest-orbit-from-Canaveral idiocy.

    This is ignorant idiocy on your part. SpaceX’s current backlog is largely commercial. Out of 37 manifested Falcon 9 flights, only eleven are NASA. And they are commencing Vandenberg operations. They have always planned to be a commercial launcher.

  • Actually, I understated their backlog, because they have multiple flights for Orbcomm.

  • Coastal Ron

    Googaw wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Then why didn’t they ever sell any trips to what is by far the most common commercial orbit until SES?

    I know this is a confusing topic for you, but you need to understand that just because you offer a service, no one has to buy, especially if you’re a new company. No conspiracy – it’s just how the business world works.

    The Falcon 9, when it was first advertised, was selling the capability to put 3,700kg to GTO. They later upgraded their advertised capability to the present 4,540kg after they had validated that they didn’t have to be so conservative with their specs. The current Falcon uses the Merlin 1C, or 3rd version, and the next one in testing is the 1D. Do you see the trend here? Increasing capability over time, including for getting to GTO?

    Now regardless what they offer, there has to be a customer with a payload that fits into that capability. SpaceX knows their upgrade path, so when they were pursuing SES as a customer they knew the Merlin 1D would satisfy the needs of SES, along with a larger payload fairing (hence the AW&ST article). Remember that satellites are not fungible commodities like standard-sized shipping containers – satellites come in all shapes and sizes, as do launchers, so not every rocket can satisfy every payload, especially when launch costs are part of the equation.

    Add on top of that the fact that satellite weight has been growing over time, so the market assumptions made in 2002 when SpaceX started have changed over time. They built a product to meet a certain sweet spot, and the sweet spot moved to a higher weight class. Luckily they already had an upgrade path.

    Of course you still haven’t been able to show how offering a GTO ability from day 1 somehow proves that SpaceX didn’t offer a GTO ability from day 1. That’s OK. No need now.

  • Coastal Ron

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ March 23rd, 2012 at 8:59 am

    My point is that when you blame NASA for not having “vision” you have to be careful what you’re asking for.

    And my initial reason for this discussion was in response to someone saying Bolden lacked “vision”, not NASA per se, but then that lead to who gets credit for having a “vision”. Usually it’s Presidents or CEO’s, even though they may just be putting their stamp on something done by one or more people.

    Nothing “inept” about being told you’re going to get a large amount of money, and designing a program to spend it, then to learn that you’re not going to have anywhere near that amount.

    Lot of debate about the money side of the Constellation program. Did Congress provide what they said they would, and if they didn’t, then did that mean that Bush didn’t care enough to support his “vision”? Or did Griffin spend too much (i.e. bad designs, bad management, etc.), assuming that Congress would pay for the overages, like they usually had?

    I think in the long run Constellation was the wrong approach to implementing the VSE, which except for the unrealistic 2020 Moon date, is an OK expression of what we should be striving for (a “vision”?).

    For now I think it’s more important to focus on the little things like getting a redundant transportation infrastructure in place so we can get cargo and crew to space. Don’t need a lot of vision for that. Just good management.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Coastal Ron wrote @ March 23rd, 2012 at 1:23 pm
    “I think in the long run Constellation was the wrong approach to implementing the VSE, which except for the unrealistic 2020 Moon date, is an OK expression of what we should be striving for (a “vision”?).”

    That’s a fair statement. That Constellation may have been visionary, but it wasn’t the optimal vision to best serve the needs of VSE.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Stephen C. Smith wrote @ March 22nd, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    I think he’s been very clear about his vision. It’s full utilization of the ISS and all the research we can do in microgravity. I realize you don’t think there’s much to be gained in microgravity. ”

    a minor nit…I do think that there is a lot to be gained from micrgravity research and probably manufactoring. My issue is that I dont see that ISS can ever exploit either the research or manufactoring potential. Hope I am wrong but I dont see how it works that way when NASA manages the science like it does RGO

  • DCSCA

    “I think it’s more important to focus on the little things like getting a redundant transportation infrastructure in place so we can get cargo and crew to space…”

    Great– if you have a market for it– sans ISS– just finance it through the private capital markets without government subsidies and don’t try to sell it as a ‘space program.’ Because it’s not. Space exploitation is not space exploration.

  • DCSCA

    Constellation as a vision remains stellar. Ares was its weakness- a poor design championed by a mediocre administrator who though of himself as another von Braun. It was a lousy rocket.

  • Martijn Meijering

    except for the unrealistic 2020 Moon date

    It would not have been unrealistic except for the insistence on an HLV or a NASA-designed launch vehicle. Using Atlas Phase 1 as a dedicated vehicle might have been possible too. Undesirable because competition might reduce launch prices by enough to enable significant commercial manned spaceflight, but not necessarily unrealistic.

    A NASA capsule (as opposed to just a SM combined with a commercial capsule) also adds to the problem.

  • pathfinder_01

    Not quite, Martin. Undesirable because it does not use the shuttle’s workforce. The savings of Atlas Phase I are in using ULA personel not USA ones. The Shuttle is a complete separate system that shares little in common with any other rocket currently flying. If the DOD had need of Atlas Phase I, it would be funded.

    A NASA capsule really isn’t the problem and a SM must fit a capsule like a glove and hand. CST100 and Dragon are not the same size as Orion. I think you mean something ATV like with more deltas V perhaps. Where a Capsule or other system could dock and have that system provide space/supplies/delta V for longer duration missions.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Undesirable because it does not use the shuttle’s workforce.

    I meant from the point of view of wanting to open up space. From that point of view it would be better than any SDLV, but not as good as ongoing, open competition.

    A NASA capsule really isn’t the problem and a SM must fit a capsule like a glove and hand. CST100 and Dragon are not the same size as Orion. I think you mean something ATV like with more deltas V perhaps.

    Well, the problem with a dedicated NASA capsule is that commercial spaceflight would still have to pay for separate crew transportation, when they could share costs with NASA if they used a common capsule or perhaps even more than one capsule. I don’t really understand what difference between the Orion SM and ATV you have in mind. The integrated cargo carrier probably isn’t it. I agree it would have to be designed more like a cross between ATV and the Ariane EPS storable upper stage (or a cross between the Orion SM & the Delta 2 upper stage). Or like a 21st century Agena with a life support module and docking capability.

  • Coastal Ron

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ March 26th, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Well, the problem with a dedicated NASA capsule is that commercial spaceflight would still have to pay for separate crew transportation, when they could share costs with NASA if they used a common capsule or perhaps even more than one capsule.

    As long as we keep using disposable capsules for exploration, we won’t be able to afford much exploration, nor venture very far away.

    I think instead of looking to morph a commercial capsule into something like the MPCV+SM, we should be putting our efforts into building a reusable exploration vehicle like the Nautilus-X, and defining what we need for a lifeboat. In this scenario, commercial crew vehicles stay optimized for transport to/from LEO, which keeps costs as low as possible.

    Probably preaching to the choir on this, but thought I would mention it.

  • Martijn Meijering

    As long as we keep using disposable capsules for exploration, we won’t be able to afford much exploration, nor venture very far away.

    Certainly true for commercial exploration, but not necessarily for government funded exploration. I’m not so sure reuse of the capsule will make much of a difference either way to say a moon program. Ditto for the lander, until after we have ISRU. Nevertheless we should aim for reuse, since it would help commercial manned spaceflight so much more than using expendables, without costing much more.

    I think instead of looking to morph a commercial capsule into something like the MPCV+SM, we should be putting our efforts into building a reusable exploration vehicle like the Nautilus-X

    I’d like that, but it would be very expensive.

    In this scenario, commercial crew vehicles stay optimized for transport to/from LEO, which keeps costs as low as possible.

    To the degree that that impacts cost of the vehicle, that would be crucial. But would it make that much of a difference? Given a universal SM/ storable “EDS” would a Dragon have to be modified very much? I can see how the versatility of the SM would result in a mass and cost penalty, but I don’t see how it has to impact the cost of the CM. Do you have anything specific in mind?

  • Coastal Ron

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ March 26th, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Certainly true for commercial exploration, but not necessarily for government funded exploration.

    Why not? NASA doesn’t have unlimited amounts of funds to build disposable spacecraft. Certainly there are maintenance and supply issues with a reusable vehicle, but I think we’ve already learned enough through the ISS and prior spacecraft to build something that could last quite a while.

    Somehow we need to get away from the mentality we have when considering space exploration missions that “first we build a new rocket/spacecraft”.

    Ditto for the lander, until after we have ISRU. Nevertheless we should aim for reuse, since it would help commercial manned spaceflight so much more than using expendables, without costing much more.

    Well and that’s really the goal – to take over all of the routine transportation tasks from NASA, so their budget becomes focused on just the unique hardware that needs to be built. Most of their transportation needs become just another line item on the GSA Schedule (the government’s pre-negotiated procurement list).

    I’d like that [Nautilus-X], but it would be very expensive.

    No doubt, but likely cheaper than building the SLS, and would provide more value in the long run. Again, preaching to the choir.

    Given a universal SM/ storable “EDS” would a Dragon have to be modified very much?

    I guess it really depends on the transportation roadmap that is chosen, and the amount of commitment there is (i.e. money) to execute it.

    If traffic between the Earth and the Moon will be low, then you could probably get by with a generic service module hooked up to a capsule. If there is a need for more frequent (and comfortable) travel, then that could justify someone building a dedicated reusable transport for that route. It’s a function of demand.

    I can see how the versatility of the SM would result in a mass and cost penalty, but I don’t see how it has to impact the cost of the CM. Do you have anything specific in mind?

    If the hardware started out as a SM + capsule, the next step could be an SM with a reusable habitat that can aerobrake in Earth’s atmosphere and stay in space. Next would be a dedicated reusable spacecraft, but still built out of modular components. A lot of options, but again, it depends on demand.

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