Congress, NASA

Nelson: early commercial crew downselect would be “silliness”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) appears to side with the administration regarding when NASA should select a commercial crew provider. Nelson told Florida Today he opposed language in the report accompanying the CJS appropriations bill that would direct NASA to make an immediate downselection to one or, at most, two companies. “Why should we not have competition for commercial crew and bring down the cost?” Nelson asked. He’s also quoted in the article as calling the House plan “silliness” and “anti-competitive.” The Senate version of the same appropriations bill, yet to be considered by the full Senate, does not contain similar provisions; Nelson said that Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who chairs the relevant appropriations subcommittee, “knows the situation” and would fight to block adoption of the House language when the two versions are eventually reconciled in conference.

61 comments to Nelson: early commercial crew downselect would be “silliness”

  • Vladislaw

    Well if Nelson recognized that silliness, maybe he will finally recognize the silliness of Senate Launch System.

  • He’s gotta convince KBH who is doing her best to convince Mikulski.. by which I mean: she’s threatening JWST.

  • vuture4

    For once a good idea from Bill Nelson.

  • Coastal Ron

    Doesn’t surprise me about Nelson, since he had been making comments favorable to Commercial Crew recently.

    I guess it may boil down to what the conference committee decides is the compromise language, but we are still pretty far away from that. Plenty of time to remove the “silliness”, as Nelson puts it.

  • TEA Party in Space (TPIS), a non-partisan organization, supports the statements of Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) in regards to Commercial Crew. Moreover, we hope that Senator Barbara Mikulski follows through and will restore the Commercial Crew program to its original intent.

    TPIS realizes that the only way to return American astronauts riding American vehicles to ISS in this decade is to promote free market competition free of government interference (limited government).

    Respectfully,
    Andrew Gasser
    TEA Party in Space

  • amightywind

    Bill Nelson has a lot of pockets to grease before the election which explains his position. It seems to me to be the height of competition to run a fair competition between 4 bidders. Where else but Obama’s NASA can you get 4 years of funding without producing results?

    TEA Party in Space (TPIS), a non-partisan organization

    A non-partisan organisation that endorses Presidential candidates? Interesting. Why not be honest?

  • AMG04

    Nelson is walking himself falling into the classic trap where there’s a mismatch between policy and budget. If there was a ton of money, sure, let’s fund several, but that’s not the case. Perhaps he wants the political support from as many companies as possible as he heads into a tough election battle, but the merits of keeping >2 suppliers in the game at $500M – $800M per year total are questionable over the long-term…and probably aren’t even in Florida’s best interest if you want to get things launching sooner rather than later to stabilize the space coast economy.

    It’s fine to say that there should be competition, but in the absence of real commercial markets, it costs the government more money to get the companies to a point where they actually have a product to compete. Once they are ready, it’s highly unlikely that the demand can support more than one supplier, so the competition is really only transient and its effect on long-term costs is marginal. Given the dim prospects for significant increases in Commercial Crew funding, the only significant variable remaining is schedule, so the choice boils down to competition vs. schedule. Politics vs. program.

  • joe

    Nelson is proposing to keep the completion open, but unless he plans to come up with another $300 Million+; the money is not there to support four competitors by the administration’s own accounting.

    Both Nelson and the (around here) much maligned Kay Bailey Hutchinson have talked about wanting to have more money for commercial crew (just-in both cases-not at the expense of MPCV/SLS). But as of now that extra money has not been forthcoming. The article mentions the $500 Million (House) and $525 Million (Senate) figures, but there is no reference of getting those numbers in-line with the administration’s $830 Million request.

    If you would really prefer (as apparently Nelson would) four inadequately funded competitors, as opposed to two with more money (and thus a chance of succeeding), have fun.

  • @ablastofhotair
    “Where else but Obama’s NASA can you get 4 years of funding without producing results?”
    Ooh! Ooh! I know! Constellation under the Bush administration! ;)
    Someday I hope you get more that one neuron firing at the same time.

  • Bob LaFollette

    If you would really prefer (as apparently Nelson would) four inadequately funded competitors, as opposed to two with more money (and thus a chance of succeeding), have fun.

    As opposed to say, an inadequately funded twenty billion dollar legacy mega launcher and capsule that have NO chance of succeeding, let along competing with super expensive uncompetitive existing conventional launchers and brand new modern engineered reusable vehicles that will be flying as early as next year. Great analysis there … joey.

  • A non-partisan organisation that endorses Presidential candidates?

    It’s pretty stupid to think that a non-partisan organization can’t endorse a presidential candidate. The NRA does it all the time. But we’ll consider the source.

  • joe

    Bob LaFollette wrote @ May 15th, 2012 at 10:49 am
    “As opposed to say, an inadequately funded twenty billion dollar legacy mega launcher and capsule that have NO chance of succeeding, ….”

    Your analysis (and I use the term loosely) of what I assume you mean to be the MPCV/SLS has of course nothing to do with the success or failure of commercial crew. It is only an (rather pathetic) attempt to change the subject

    “Great analysis there … joey.”

    Total lack of any rational thought there …. bobbie.

    But like I said have fun.

  • @AMG
    “If there was a ton of money, sure, let’s fund several, but that’s not the case. “
    That statement is based on an inaccurate assumption. Yes, if Commercial Crew was being operated under FAR, $500 million would not be enough to finance several entrants. But it is being operated using SAAs keeping development costs lower than they would be under FAR.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Coastal Ron wrote @ May 15th, 2012 at 12:14 am

    I guess it may boil down to what the conference committee decides is the compromise language, but we are still pretty far away from that. Plenty of time to remove the “silliness”, as Nelson puts it.>>

    actually Nelson is moving where he thinks that the political tea leaves are moving…and he is probably correct.

    In the end what it is going to boil down to is 1) the politics of the election which are going to affect 2) the notions of the budget.

    It is early to see but my prediction RIGHT NOW is that the “issue” that Both Obama and Willard are going to be beating over in the late summer and fall leading up to the election is the budget proposal coming out of the House…

    The fact that the GOP has broken the budget deal, ie is shifting money from social and other programs to fund a bloated defense department is in my view going to be the issue that ends up defining the political battle.

    In that commercial crew/cargo is going to do well. Unlike SLS/Orion and even Webb at least commercial cargo will be flying by the time of the budget battle. What you will see is an energetic Obama looking young and “forward leaning” (I hate that phrase) walking around the Dragon that has come and gone…and Willard the stiff .1 percent looking person talking about SLS/Orion…which is where he will have to go.

    That is a winner in Florida. And the nation RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    AMG04 wrote @ May 15th, 2012 at 10:15 am

    It’s fine to say that there should be competition, but in the absence of real commercial markets, it costs the government more money to get the companies to a point where they actually have a product to compete. Once they are ready, it’s highly unlikely that the demand can support more than one supplier, so the competition is really only transient and its effect on long-term costs is marginal. >>

    that is rhetoric passing as logic and really it is nonsensical.

    Assume for just a moment that “the only “market is government rides up and down to the station.

    WHY is competition for that market alone bad? why is diversity of competetion in that market alone bad?

    If a “down select” occurs now we are left with nothing from the entire process.

    What we are back to is “single player” where in the end the government then becomes invested in that “single player” succeeding because with out that success then the governments prized space asset is at risk.

    So now this “player” is in a position to pull a ULA…ie prices going up for no increase in performance and the notion that bad performance has to be tolerated because after all “there is only one”.

    Now lets move on to you being wrong…ie that there is a market outside of government….then that competition would prove vital to the folks who try and provide a space service NOT being held hostage to both a single point failure of the up/down lift AND the price numbers.

    I find it goofy that people who dont bat an eye on the 3 billion that routinely go down the hole on SLS and Orion…seem to come up with basic issues on commercial lift/crew most of which are just rhetoric.

    So can you give me an answer to my questions?RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    amightywind wrote @ May 15th, 2012 at 8:25 am
    Where else but Obama’s NASA can you get 4 years of funding without producing results?>>

    Please ask something hard.

    The space station produced no results during the four years of Bush the old…Under Bush43 Cx SPENT 15 billion dollars and produced no results (OK that goofy suborbital 3/4 billion thing)

    And that is just a few…dont be goofy RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    joe wrote @ May 15th, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Nelson is proposing to keep the completion open, but unless he plans to come up with another $300 Million+; the money is not there to support four competitors by the administration’s own accounting.

    Who said there has to be four competitors for CCiCap?

    I think the minimum would be described as “at least two”. That would provide domestic redundancy, and some degree of competition to hold down prices.

    What some in the House are pushing for is to down-select to just one, or at most kind of a 1 1/2 (leader-follower). There is no domestic redundancy with one provider, and who knows what their version of a leader-follower strategy would provide.

  • Ben Joshua

    Senator Nelson, agree with him or not, is a careful and deliberate politician. He rarely stakes out a position too far ahead of process. In this case, to be sure, he knows the lay of the land in the Senate. A political player dismisses Nelson’s institutional wisdom at his own risk.

  • Let’s not forget that NASA is scheduled to issue CCiCap awards in July or August. By the time the FY13 budget passes (after the election), NASA will be well into the 21-month period working with the award winners to build the first test spacecraft.

    My guess is NASA will select two or three on its own and the report language will be irrelevant. The more important issue is to increase the amount from $525 million to the $835 million requested by the Administration.

    As this document notes, “report language and managers’ statements do not have statutory force, departments and agencies are not legally bound by their declarations. These documents do, however, explain congressional intent, and executive branch agencies take them seriously because they must justify their budget requests annually to the Appropriations Committees.”

    With this being an election year, some of the porkers responsible for this language may not be around when the FY14 budget comes up next spring, therefore NASA won’t have to justify why they ignored the language.

    So let’s have Nelson work on increasing the amount during conference committee and not posture over report language.

  • amightywind

    The NRA does it all the time

    You claim that the NRA is non-partisan and call me stupid? Amusing. Makes you wonder what your definition of non-partisan is. As usual, confusion reigns in what passes for your mind.

    All of you decrying the ‘end of the competition’ are howling at the moon. Its a done deal unless Obama intercedes. He won’t. What is interesting is by what process and how soon a winner will be chosen. All of the entrants have been making a lot noise the last few weeks. It is not unrelated to events in congress. Blue Origin is touting CFD results for its vehicle (calculated on Lockmart computers LOL!). Sierra Nevada has some new PowerPoint slides. ATK has presented updated concepts of its excellent Liberty rocket. SpaceX is babbling incoherently and missing dates, as usual. Boeing marches on with its CST-100 smelling victory.

  • Bob LaFollette

    It is only an (rather pathetic) attempt to change the subject

    The subject here is competitive lower cost United States access to space, joe, I don’t see how you could possibly NOT see the elephant in the room, or acknowledge it’s waste of twenty billion dollars over the last seven years, it’s continued waste of billions of more dollars and badly needed resources over the next five years, and it’s direct culpability in the need for any selection or down selection at all in the commercial crew and cargo program. Unless of course, you are praising the waste of this money, time and resources as the reason we have COTS, CRS and CCDev in the first place. In that case, bravo!

  • SpaceColonizer

    I never thought the next phase (CCiCap, as it appears to be called) would carry forth all 4 competitors from CCDev2. But to down-select down to 1 at this point is just, well…. silly. What I always imagined would be the best course (aka “If I Were King of NASA”) would be to knock one ‘funded’ participants out with each step. So CCiCap would be 3 funded participants, and any other who still want to be considered for later phases could remain in contention, but unfunded. Then we have a phase just before the final contract where we have 2 funded participants and any number of unfunded participants who would like to invest their own money to be considered for the final contract. Then NASA signs a service contract with one provider. If they can justify signing contracts with two providers with enough business to support them, that’s great, but I don’t see it happening.

  • joe

    Bob LaFollette wrote @ May 15th, 2012 at 4:51 pm
    “The subject here is competitive lower cost United States access to space, joe, …”

    The subject of the article and my post was Senator Nelsons call to not perform a down select at this time. I added the fact that he made no comments (at least they are not mentioned in the article or the linked to news story) in doing this about the need to increase commercial crew funding by $300 Million+ to adequately fund (according to the Obama administration’s own figures) the commercial crew effort.

    If you want to talk about “competitive lower cost United States access to space” that is fine with me. I would point out, however, that underfunding (and thus probably causing inevitable failures) four competitors is not likely to do anything to bring your dream any closer to reality. If the commercial crew budget is not going to be increased (and that is likely – repetitive ranting about what a waste of money you believe MPCV/SLS to be not withstanding) your goal would probably be better served by a down select to fewer competitors.

    That is the end of this discussion for me. Have a nice evening.

  • Googaw

    it’s highly unlikely that the demand can support more than one supplier

    In orbital HSF, private demand can’t even support one supplier. Or even a significant fraction of one supplier. Over 99.5% of orbital HSF revenue has come, continues to come, and will continue to come for several decades hence (if it comes at all), from civilian government agencies who launch useless astronauts for the sake of launching useless astronauts.

    As opposed to orbital unmanned, where private demand can and long has supported many suppliers of both satellites and satellite launches.

  • AMG04

    To RGO:

    I think a key difference between us is the size of the market that we each believe is real. The ISS market is only a couple launches per year and I’m not optimistic that ISS will survive beyond 2020. So, the ISS market is really only 6 to 8, or maybe 10 launches…hardly enough market to support with even one provider, much less more than one.

    I’m very pessimistic that there is a sustainable market outside ISS. It would be great if there was a larger market, but I don’t see it. I suspect someday there will be an economic incentive sufficient to support a larger market, but so far I’ve just seen view graphs and prospective claims.

    So, The questions is if NASA’s budget for this is in the $500M or so range, how best to proceed? I believe the best path is to downselect to the lowest risk approach and move forward. Competition has its limits. It may be that the government needs to look at this more akin to an arsenal, than a competive market…since the market is not large enough to actually work its magic. With the arsenal approach, though, it demands much more of the government to be wise stewards, not simply bureacratic chart pushers. Wisdom that heretofore has been absent.

  • DCSCA

    @amightywind wrote @ May 15th, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Relax, Windy. The Tea Party is flaming out or consuming their own (see Lugar & Hatch for details); the only thing reliable abut Space X is their unreliability and Nelson’s positions have all the reliability of Florida weather- see what it’s like in November, as that’s all he’s concerned about and Floridians know he’s getting long in the tooth. Times are changing.

  • DCSCA

    “I find it goofy that people who dont bat an eye on the 3 billion that routinely go down the hole on SLS and Orion…”

    Big numbers mean little these days; JPM/Chase lost $2 billion in six weeks and got nothing for it but bad press. SLS and Orion are the future of BEO HSF exploration, LEO commercial is not.

  • AMG04 wrote:

    The ISS market is only a couple launches per year and I’m not optimistic that ISS will survive beyond 2020. So, the ISS market is really only 6 to 8, or maybe 10 launches…hardly enough market to support with even one provider, much less more than one.

    Then how do you explain that at the recent summit of all the ISS-member administrators, they unanimously said they want to continue past 2020? Not to mention that NASA has said they’ve analyzed the infrastructure and it will hold up until at least the originally intended life span of 2028.

    I’m very pessimistic that there is a sustainable market outside ISS. It would be great if there was a larger market, but I don’t see it.

    If you want to see it, go to BigelowAerospace.com. Boeing is already a partner with Bigelow. Last week, SpaceX and Bigelow announced an agreement to jointly market flights to the Bigelow station, scheduled to start launching modules on a Falcon 9 in 2015. Seven nations have already signed MOUs to use the Bigelow modules. And that’s just nations; SpaceX/Bigelow are now seeking private sector customers.

  • Bob LaFollette

    If the commercial crew budget is not going to be increased your goal would probably be better served by a down select to fewer competitors.

    And how is LESS competition going to drive the innovation necessary to reduce the cost of spaceflight again, joe? And I remind you, the reason we have COTS and CCDev at all is because NASA utterly failed to deliver any product after 20 billion dollars spent and ten years time, whereas a private company is on the verge of almost trivially delivering that capability, primarily because of competition with established federally funded space flight interests perceived to be competition.. Thanks again for your thoughts. No, wait, sorry, forget that.

  • AMG04

    Stephen Smith wrote:

    “Then how do you explain that at the recent summit of all the ISS-member administrators, they unanimously said they want to continue past 2020? Not to mention that NASA has said they’ve analyzed the infrastructure and it will hold up until at least the originally intended life span of 2028″

    My pessimism about ISS going beyond 2020 is based on cost to continue and lack of value/relevance of the program. By 2020, ISS will have been operating for 20 years, and nearly 10 years since assembly complete. Given the $3B+ annual price tag to just keep it going and the high likelihood of unimpressive scientific accomplishments, I think a decision will be made to declare victory and de-orbit it to free up money for other things or pay down the debt. A decision to pick between ISS and some BEO human program seems pretty likely. The fact that Space Agency heads state their support for continuing the program is not surprising, nor does it say much, because they’re not really the decision-makers for that. The fact that ISS technically can continue to 2028 says really very little about whether it should continue.

    On Bigelow and others, yes, they do have more than view graphs, but it is also not real yet either, imo. I remember a lot of money and real hardware being built for all the commercial comm birds in LEO back in the 1990s, but that market failed to materialize. Markets do work…and work ruthlessly, despite what people want to happen. Commercial human spaceflight is not yet a real market, despite the hardware and deals between companies…it’s a risky bet.

  • You claim that the NRA is non-partisan and call me stupid?

    Of course the NRA is non-partisan. They will endorse whoever in a race they think is best for gun rights. But I’m not surprised that you double down on the ignorance.

  • AMG04 wrote:

    Given the $3B+ annual price tag to just keep it going and the high likelihood of unimpressive scientific accomplishments, I think a decision will be made to declare victory and de-orbit it to free up money for other things or pay down the debt.

    Huh?!

    The vaccines currently in the pipeline at the FDA for salmonella and MRSA that were discovered due to ISS research — only possible in microgravity — are “unimpressive”?!

    Hopefully you never catch MRSA.

    The ISS Benefits for Humanity web site has many more “unimpressive scientific accomplishments” for you to ignore.

    I suppose all those private companies like Bigelow and Boeing and SpaceX investing hundreds of millions of dollars in LEO access to work in microgravity all made their billions because they’re stupid and can’t see where to make a buck. Yep, unimpressive.

  • The ISS market is only a couple launches per year and I’m not optimistic that ISS will survive beyond 2020.

    There’s nothing holy about that number. Lower-cost access could increase it.

  • Meanwhile, in PorkSpace …

    SpaceFlightNow.com reports that NASA has sole-sourced the SLS second stage to Boeing.

    Once again, no competition for Senator Nelson’s “monster rocket” design.

  • Robert G. Oler

    http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/hearing-140279-hundreds-public.html

    SpaceX just keeps rolling…this is true commercial activity at work RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    AMG04 wrote @ May 15th, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    thank you for the comments.

    “I think a key difference between us is the size of the market that we each believe is real.”

    a few points if I might.

    First off I dont know what the “Market” is for human and cargo flight directed at humans beyond ISS is…but we should look at this in light of what we do know.

    First NASA spent about 2.5 to 3 billion a year flying the space shuttle and it is spending 3 billion a year on SLS/Orion. The 3 billion number is sufficient to support two cargo providers and two human lift providers…thats four different paths to ISS…and have change left over..

    Second everyone of the likely providers does so on launch vehicles which dont really care if they are providing a launch for a Dragon/CST or whatever…If SpaceX is chosen as one of the commercial crew and cargo providers then the Falcon9 that flies either of those two can also do lift for commercial sats.

    Third you say “someday there might be an economic incentive”. (or close to that if you feel I have misquoted you let me know) well if not now when? The pieces are in place now…we have to take advantage of what we have now.

    To me all this sums to the notion that it is in the best interest of commerical space and American space policy to encourage with all assets possible a “breakout” in commercial space.

    There is no magic technology that we are suddenly going to discover. It doesnt work that way.

    What we need to do is bring in an era of competition that sustains as high a launch rate as possible (ie dual use commercial satellite/US gov satellite/human and cargo transport) to encourage the savings on high launch rates and spur technology evolution for newer vehicles.

    As for what happens in 2020 and beyond. Had you told me in 1999 that by 2009 the US would be mired in battles against primitives, have ruined our economy and be in the grips of idiots who have no idea of science or technology I would have said “OK bush is running anything is possible”.

    But in 1983 had you told me that by 1994 Ronaldus the Great would have restarted the economy, vanquished the Soviets, and left us in an era of enormous prosperity…Yeah I could have bought that as well. In fact I was supporting those things.

    So I wont take the pessimistic route to 2020.

    I think with the right policy and good tools Americans can do anything. We have in the past. RGO

  • Martijn Meijering

    Over 99.5% of orbital HSF revenue has come, continues to come, and will continue to come for several decades hence (if it comes at all), from civilian government agencies who launch useless astronauts for the sake of launching useless astronauts.

    And that will remain the case until launch prices come down by an order of magnitude. If that turns out to be impossible, we should give up and go home, because it would mean manned spaceflight is doomed.

    As opposed to orbital unmanned, where private demand can and long has supported many suppliers of both satellites and satellite launches.

    Which is of little help to manned spaceflight.

  • Robert G. Oler

    AMG04 wrote @ May 16th, 2012 at 9:56 am

    My pessimism about ISS going beyond 2020 is based on cost to continue and lack of value/relevance of the program. ”

    If ISS does not operate past 2020 one of two courses have been taken. Either we as a nation (the US) are done with human spaceflight for a generation…or it has been so successful that there are lots of commercial space stations. There is no real other paths RGO

  • AMG04

    America can do anything, but only after we pull our collective heads out of the sand on this issue and focus on what is real and what can realistically be achieved, technically, programmatically, politically and budgetarily. The community needs to get back to basics and reset its expectations, goals and plans. I fear the program has lived on hype so long it doesn’t know how to survive without it.

  • Googaw

    And that will remain the case until launch prices come down by an order of magnitude.

    Space-X is only the latest among many, many efforts to try to do this. All the others have failed. It looks like Space-X has done better than the others by dropping the cost per launch significantly to $50m, but that’s nowhere near an order of magnitude. And they have yet to demonstrate that they can do this on reliable transportation schedules instead of being distracted by NASA politics into delaying the maturation of the Falcon 9.

    If that turns out to be impossible, we should give up and go home, because it would mean manned spaceflight is doomed.

    You should go home then. Or better yet, try real commerce. Regardless of what happens to the voodoo cult of HSF, real space commerce will continue to thrive, paving the way for affordable orbital HSF several decades from now when we are economically ready for it.

    Meanwhile “commercial” orbital HSF is an economic fantasy, useful only as a tool to recruit naive young talent and lobby for NASA contracts.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Regardless of what happens to the voodoo cult of HSF, real space commerce will continue to thrive, paving the way for affordable orbital HSF several decades from now when we are economically ready for it.

    In other words you agree it’s not impossible.

  • Googaw

    In other words you agree it’s not impossible.

    Of course it’s not impossible over the long run. I’ve never said or implied otherwise. But there’s a huge difference between a future possibility and a present economical feasibility. There are trillions of wonderful future possibilities that it would be idiotic to invest in today because, like orbital HSF, they are nowhere close to being economical. In orbital HSF we are about two orders of magnitude away from that, and there’s nothing on the horizon (in the next two to three decades, at least) that will bridge that gap. Bigelow, chasing first UFOs and now NASA (sub-)contracts is not going to get us there. Magical launch cost reductions aren’t going to get us there. But practical advances such as Space-X is making move us slightly closer and can have practical benefits for real space commerce today, as long as Space-X doesn’t end up screwing its real commerce customers for the sake of NASA politics. We are also making many practical advances here on earth, e.g. in the automation of mining, that will help us greatly in space in the future.

    Eventually, many decades from now, as we keep growing real space commerce, and as we start extracting and processing in-space materials with unmanned machines, the space economy will become larger enough and cheaper enough to support economical orbital HSF. Expansion into space is a multi-generational affair, and we have been for the last five decades, are currently, and for the next several decades will remain in, the unmanned phase when it comes to real commercial feasibility in orbit.

  • vulture4

    It’s true that Nelson has said nothing about Congress slashing the commercial crew budget. He seldom actually takes a stand, although it does occur. I suggest calling his office on this.

    In the case of the actual “downselect”, it makes sense to keep SpaceX and Boeing as both have low-risk systems that can go into service quickly, and it makes sense to have both in operational service to avoid any further “gaps”. Since both vehicles have dual-use boosters it should not be difficult to maintain a reasonable launch rate.

    I continue to be discouraged by the lack of critical thinking regarding Dreamchaser considering that it lacks suffient L/D margin for a safe unpowered landing at any realistic flight mass, and that the lifting body was a solution to a problem that was solved in the 70′s with the development of RCC. The X-37C has vastly better aerodynamics and volumetric efficiency, and the virtue of a prototype having actually flown in orbit and landed unpowered on a runway, while the Russian BOR-4 that served as the prototype of the Dreamchaser required a parachute. Perhaps the very attractive Dreamchaser mockup built be a large team of university students was more important in winning NASA support.

    RGO: I agree with the importance of dual use tech. Both the Falcon and Atlas could provide commercial launch services, although I don’t expect Atlas to attract much in the way of non-government customers. The new Chinese LM5 is explicitly designed for commercial heavy lift as well as human launch; China considers human spaceflight to be good advertising for its commercial capabilities.

  • Critical Observer

    Eventually, many decades from now

    Critical observers understand that without much lower cost access to spacem along with some lifestyle changes and some scientific breakthroughs, there won’t be anything much but chaos on this planet many decades from now.

    Keep that in mind when or if you criticize Elon Musk or SpaceX.

  • josh

    nelson is a tool for supporting sls but he’s right on this one. commercial crew might accelerate commercial manned orbital flights but not by much. spacex will do it eventually, no matter what. what’s a few years…

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “keeping >2 suppliers in the game at $500M – $800M per year total”

    NASA is anticipating awards of $300-500M to each performer for two years of work during the next phase of commercial crew. That’s ~$150-250M per year, not $500-800M per year.

    http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n1205/02commercialcrew/

  • Googaw

    Critical observers understand that without much lower cost access to spacem along with some lifestyle changes and some scientific breakthroughs, there won’t be anything much but chaos on this planet many decades from now.

    When the utopian sci-fi used to lobby for NASA contracts is shown to be economic fantasy, the cult doffs their silly star-studded rose-colored glasses and dons bizarre firepits-of-dying-earth ones. Heaven in space debunked, they conjur up hell on earth. Launch astronauts into space now or we’re all gonna die! Run for the hills! Aaaaaaaaaaaaghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

  • pathfinder_01

    “I think a key difference between us is the size of the market that we each believe is real. The ISS market is only a couple launches per year and I’m not optimistic that ISS will survive beyond 2020. So, the ISS market is really only 6 to 8, or maybe 10 launches…hardly enough market to support with even one provider, much less more than one.”

    As much as I like BEO spaceflight, it will be far more expensive than an ISS mission. I expect that the ISS will be kept as long as possible(2028) and even then I don’t see humanity abandoning LEO unless it chooses to abandon space altogether. The attraction of LEO is relatively low cost missions. Apollo burnt as much money as the ISS in far less time.
    What I think can and should happen is that the next generation of space station should require less ground support and be cheaper to build/operate(ISS is 90ies tech). Also CCREW and CCagro can support a BEO mission that is assembled in LEO and there is nothing preventing a CCREW like program from being extended to high earth orbit also.

    I think a single provider would be a really bad idea. Even in an arsonel system like say the Navy, the does not operate only one class of ship per type. They keep older classes and phase newer classes in. The Air force often has more than one type of airplane that could do the job. Having more than one provider allows you to have back up and keeps the other guy honest(lest he price himself out the market).

  • Martijn Meijering

    Expansion into space is a multi-generational affair, and we have been for the last five decades, are currently, and for the next several decades will remain in, the unmanned phase when it comes to real commercial feasibility in orbit.

    That may well be right, but that doesn’t mean we should necessarily invest in unmanned spaceflight in the belief that that would automatically help the cause of commercial manned spaceflight. Maybe we should simply accept we won’t live to see commercial manned spaceflight, fully independent of government spaceflight programs.

    On the other hand, I’m not convinced it must take generations, it could be decades. And I think there are ways government spending on both manned and especially unmanned spaceflight can help, especially if one order of magnitude in launch price reductions would be enough instead of the two you assume.

  • Vladislaw

    Robert G. Oler wrote:

    “http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/hearing-140279-hundreds-public.html

    SpaceX just keeps rolling…this is true commercial activity at work RGO”

    From the article:

    “State Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said residents were mistaken if they believed SpaceX did not have the support of Governor Rick Perry’s Office. Oliveira said the state has dedicated about $2.2 million to the project.”

    I thought I read in one of the Florida papers that Texas and the Gov were not on board with this?

  • Robert G. Oler

    Vladislaw wrote @ May 17th, 2012 at 8:34 am

    From the article:

    “State Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said residents were mistaken if they believed SpaceX did not have the support of Governor Rick Perry’s Office. Oliveira said the state has dedicated about $2.2 million to the project.”

    I thought I read in one of the Florida papers that Texas and the Gov were not on board with this?>>

    that actually was “news” to me and I am trying to find out more so I can stop flagging the Gov (gee so much fun) if he is being useful. I am looking into it (but am very busy with work and moving to the new farm) so it might take me a bit, but I am looking into it. RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    vulture4 wrote @ May 16th, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    RGO: I agree with the importance of dual use tech. Both the Falcon and Atlas could provide commercial launch services, although I don’t expect Atlas to attract much in the way of non-government customers.,,.

    To me that is one of the great unknowns and the great benefit of this.

    If something that flies on an Atlas makes the cut of commercial crew (and I suspect it will) and something that flies on a Falcon9 does as well…we will get to see how well ULA does. ie can they keep up with demand, at a certain cost, and how will they do that.

    At least in rhetoric Musk’s entire theory is “mass produce” so one can assume he thinks at least that he can make a full launch calender at Florida, Vandy and maybe something down near Cameron Tx….so he has designed a mass produced rocket…see if that works for Atlas.

    this is the genius of both competition and private enterprise…to me at least RGO

  • Googaw

    I think there are ways government spending on both manned and especially unmanned spaceflight can help, especially if one order of magnitude in launch price reductions would be enough instead of the two you assume.

    Government spending tends to have the opposite effect on costs from what we desire. In that incentive structure, more money available to spend on an objective generally gives rise to more spending in pursuit of that objective: i.e. greater costs. This is particularly likely to be true when safety concerns dominate the politics, as they do in government-funded HSF. The unlimited value of the life of an astronaut is what has been delaying the Dragon launch to ISS, for example. We’ve only begun to see the beginnings of the cost and schedule overruns as Space-X vainly tries to satisfy the limitless safety paranoia that is thoroughly entrenched in our astronaut program. And I don’t need to tell you about the stupendous cost premiums inherent in Shuttle, Ares, and now SLS compared to commercial satellite launch.

    To lower the costs of launching people 50 years from now, or even to be preposterously optimistic 20, the best way to invest money towards that goal is to invest in lowering the costs of launching satellites in this decade. More government-funded HSF, even when the contracts are called “commercial”, takes us in the opposite direction.

    Even more importantly, growing the satellite business in the upcoming decades will give the astronauts of 50 years from now something useful to do, and will provide greater markets for ISRU.

  • Coastal Ron

    Googaw wrote @ May 17th, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    We’ve only begun to see the beginnings of the cost and schedule overruns as Space-X vainly tries to satisfy the limitless safety paranoia that is thoroughly entrenched in our astronaut program.

    Cost overruns on a milestone schedule? I think you’ve been hyperventilating too much.

    I don’t disagree that “Safety is Job #1″ around NASA, and Congress is certainly posturing using “safety” as a political bludgeon. But to assume that those building commercial spacecraft aren’t thinking of safety too is pretty ignorant.

    And I don’t need to tell you about the stupendous cost premiums inherent in Shuttle, Ares, and now SLS compared to commercial satellite launch.

    Those cost premiums were designed in, regardless if they knew it ahead of time or not. Once you’re locked into a costly design, it’s kinda late to start worrying about how you’re supposed to lower costs. The Shuttle, no matter what they wanted to do, was always going to require an army of people to refurbish it after each flight, even if it only flew once a year. The VAB, the crawler, the marginal design that kept engineers up at night trying to figure out how to decrease the likelihood that it will kill someone – all built in overhead costs that couldn’t be eliminated.

    The commercial crew spacecraft start out by being far more simple than the Shuttle. The Atlas V rocket doesn’t need much hardware change to carry crew, and the Falcon 9 was originally designed to eventually carry humans. These will be far less expensive systems to operate than anything NASA has done or plans to do.

    So could NASA or congressional pressure commercial crew providers to add an extra person or two? Sure, but that’s not going to increase their costs by $Millions per launch.

    If you disagree, please provide specific details.

  • Googaw

    But to assume that those building commercial spacecraft aren’t thinking of safety too is pretty ignorant.

    I think you’ll find that satellite insurers are far more relaxed and rational than NASA HSF inspectors (keeping to the comparison I’ve been making of NASA HSF vs. the real commerce of unmanned satellite launch — the latter being the far better path to lower launch costs).

  • Martijn Meijering

    To lower the costs of launching people 50 years from now, or even to be preposterously optimistic 20, the best way to invest money towards that goal is to invest in lowering the costs of launching satellites in this decade.

    In other words by investment in lowering launch prices.

  • Coastal Ron

    Googaw wrote @ May 17th, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    I think you’ll find that satellite insurers are far more relaxed and rational than NASA HSF inspectors…

    Hunks of hardware versus human life? Ya think?

    With all your hand waving though, you have not provided any indication of what the huge cost drivers are that you think will happen between now and when commercial providers are ready to start ferrying people to space.

    NASA will demand a triple backup pressure valve? More heat-resistant paint? An extra carbon filter for the ECLSS? Sure NASA can take their time in validating designs, processes and procedures, but that doesn’t add $Millions to the cost of a flight.

    Especially in the case of SpaceX, which has already gone through the majority of the gauntlet with the cargo version of Dragon, what could NASA do that would result in the huge additional costs for commercial crew that you are afraid of?

  • DCSCA

    @AMG04 wrote @ May 16th, 2012 at 9:56 am

    “My pessimism about ISS going beyond 2020 is based on cost to continue and lack of value/relevance of the program. By 2020, ISS will have been operating for 20 years, and nearly 10 years since assembly complete. Given the $3B+ annual price tag to just keep it going and the high likelihood of unimpressive scientific accomplishments, I think a decision will be made to declare victory and de-orbit it to free up money for other things or pay down the debt.”

    Yep. Smitty’s only pitching woo for the ISS as a ‘faux market’ for his beloved commercial LEO firms, like Space X. Without it as a destination, they’re going no place fast, as space exploitation is not space exploration. But the ISS is nothing more than a relic of Cold War planning from an era long past, morphed over the years into an aerospace WPA project;

  • Coastal Ron

    AMG04 wrote @ May 16th, 2012 at 9:56 am

    A decision to pick between ISS and some BEO human program seems pretty likely.

    In other words stop figuring out how we can do long-term BEO (one of the key objectives of the ISS), and resort to forever doing Orion/MPCV 20 day-max missions (not even true BEO).

    Or to put it in more quantitative numbers, going from about 800 days of space activity per year (min. U.S. ISS staffing) to 80 (1 MPCV mission/year w/4 crew).

    How inspiring.

  • Googaw

    In other words by investment in lowering launch prices.

    Martijn, why do you feel the need to rephrase things I said as things I didn’t say? I said what I said, and what I didn’t say I didn’t say.

    I this case, not all such investments are equal. Not even close. In particular, investments in launching astronauts have tended and will tend to raise costs, whereas genuinely commercial (a competitive market with private sector customers as well as private sector suppliers) investment in unmanned launch will tend to lower them, to the extent they can be lowered with the at-hand state of the art. For the two obvious reasons I stated above, at least one of which (the much greater costs involved in safety) even Costal Ron seems to agree with.

    Indeed, both reasons are straightforward common sense. But then common sense and the obvious are not the astronaut cult’s strong points. As the donors and supporters of Newt Gingrich most recently discovered to their chagrin.

  • Coastal Ron

    Googaw wrote @ May 19th, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    In particular, investments in launching astronauts have tended and will tend to raise costs, whereas genuinely commercial (a competitive market with private sector customers as well as private sector suppliers) investment in unmanned launch will tend to lower them, to the extent they can be lowered with the at-hand state of the art.

    You haven’t tried answering my last question, so let’s see how you do on this one.

    Why will “investments in launching astronauts” tend to raise in cost? If we want to compare the cost of getting crew to the ISS, we will be seeing a dramatic reduction in cost in going from the Shuttle to any of the Commercial Crew alternatives. And if we compare the costs of flying on Soyuz versus the crew version of Dragon, it looks like it will be dropping dramatically there too ($195M for three crew on Soyuz vs $140M for up to seven on Dragon).

    Provide examples to support your assertions.

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