Campaign '12

Examining Romney’s ScienceDebate space answer

Yesterday ScienceDebate 2012 released answers to a series of questions on science topics provided by the Obama and Romney campaigns. (Interest was high enough that the web site was largely inaccessible for most of the day; while it appears to be up and running now, a copy of the questions and answers is on Scientific American’s site.) One of the 14 questions dealt with space: “The United States is currently in a major discussion over our national goals in space. What should America’s space exploration and utilization goals be in the 21st century and what steps should the government take to help achieve them?”

The answer from the Romney campaign is worth reading since it offers a little bit more perspective on the campaign’s views on space and what a Romney Administration might do. The campaign starts with his view of the purpose of the space program:

The mission of the U.S. space program is to spur innovation through exploration of the heavens, inspire future generations, and protect our citizens and allies.

That’s followed by several bullet points on the role of space in technological innovation, the economy, national security, and foreign relations. The Romney statement then goes on to suggest that America’s space capabilities are deteriorating, in part because of a lack of perceived direction for the space program:

America has enjoyed a half-century of leadership in space, but now that leadership is eroding despite the hard work of American industry and government personnel. The current purpose and goals of the American space program are difficult to determine. With clear, decisive, and steadfast leadership, space can once again be an engine of technology and commerce. It can help to strengthen America’s entrepreneurial spirit and commercial competitiveness, launch new industries and new technologies, protect our security interests, and increase our knowledge.

The statement then reiterates statements Romney made back in January, where he said he would being in experts from a variety of disciplines to develop new goals and missions for NASA:

Rebuilding NASA, restoring U.S. leadership, and creating new opportunities for space commerce will be hard work, but I will strive to rebuild an institution worthy of our aspirations and capable once again leading the world toward new frontiers. I will bring together all the stakeholders – from NASA and other civil agencies, from the full range of national security institutions, from our leading universities, and from commercial enterprises – to set goals, identify missions, and define the pathway forward.

Then the campaign springs the bad news on space advocates looking to increase NASA’s budget:

Focusing NASA. A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding, it needs clearer priorities. I will ensure that NASA has practical and sustainable missions. There will be a balance of pragmatic and top-priority science with inspirational and groundbreaking exploration programs.

The statement then goes on to support international partnerships, stating that a Romney Administration “will invite friends and allies to cooperate with America in achieving mutually beneficial goals.” The campaign also has some strong words about national security space policy:

I am committed to a robust national security space program and I will direct the development of capabilities that defend and increase the resilience of space assets. I will also direct the development of capabilities that will deter adversaries seeking to damage or destroy the space capabilities of the U.S. and its allies.

The statement doesn’t go into additional details about what those capabilities to both defend US space assets and deter attacks might be. The National Security Space Strategy released by the Pentagon in January 2011 also includes language on these topics. “We seek to enhance our national capability to dissuade and deter the development, testing, and employment of counterspace systems and prevent and deter aggression against space systems and supporting infrastructure that support U.S. national security,” that document states, adding that such efforts include “strengthening the resilience of our architectures.”

Finally, and very briefly, the Romney statement addresses commercial space:

Revitalizing Industry. A strong aerospace industry must be able to compete for and win business in foreign markets. I will work to ease trade limitations, as appropriate, on foreign sales of U.S. space goods and will work to expand access to new markets.

It’s not clear what “trade limitations” the campaign is referring to, although it could be an oblique reference to export controls, which are a self-imposed form of trade limitations that makes it more difficult for US companies to export satellites and related components.

The key takeaway from the answer is that a Romney Administration would seek to refocus NASA in as-yet-unspecified ways (pending, perhaps, the recommendations of that collection of stakeholders mentioned both in the statement and in previous comments by Romney), but would not necessarily seek to increase NASA’s budget to carry out those revised priorities.

39 comments to Examining Romney’s ScienceDebate space answer

  • Coastal Ron

    Under the “mission of the U.S. space program” section, he also states:

    Space is crucial to America’s international standing. Independent access to space, the launch of satellites, and the travel of citizens to and from space continue to be seen as major technical achievements that convey not only America’s military and economic power, but also the power of American values. The success of private sector enterprises in achieving these objectives opens a new chapter in American leadership.

    While we’re still trying to read tea leaves here, this seems to imply that he would continue to support the Commercial Cargo & Crew program, and the public/private partnership collaborations.

    Overall not bad, but of course we’d have to see how it actually unfolds to know for sure what the words on paper translate into in real life. And, since Congress is the one that establishes the real funding levels, part of this depends on the make-up and mood of Congress – regardless who is President.

    But overall this is not looking good for SLS supporters…

  • amightywind

    A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding, it needs clearer priorities.

    I have always maintained this. NASA needs reform. Serious reform. It needs to drop activities and redirect funds. Under the GOP, cover for Obama’s ‘commercial space’ friends will be stripped. Go Mitt!

  • DougSpace

    I am reading ITAR reform here. Ron, what are you reading that seems to speak against SLS? On the one hand, I don’t see SLS being sustainable, but on the other hand, canceling SLS without replacing that capability would prevent those grand manned missions which are specifically pointed to as inspiring the future generations.

    I am disappointed that there is nothing to hint at the development of in situ space resources. I think that the billions of dollars per year that NASA gets is sufficient to accomplish some remarkable things if done in a smart way. But I’m not seeing anything to suggest a particularly innovative, transformative strategies.

  • yg1968

    Jeff,

    The paragraph cited by Coastal Ron above is arguably the most important and newsworthy statement made by Romney on NASA. It seems very supportive of commercial crew and cargo. I am a little surprised that you ommited it in your summary given that it is the first time that Romney clearly comes out in favour of commercial space. I will repeat it a second time for emphasis:

    “Space is crucial to America’s international standing. Independent access to space, the launch of satellites, and the travel of citizens to and from space continue to be seen as major technical achievements that convey not only America’s military and economic power, but also the power of American values. The success of private sector enterprises in achieving these objectives opens a new chapter in American leadership.”

  • James

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    Do not look for anything new with Romney. What his answers says is pure retreaded rhetoric. Have heard it before.

    Look for NASA budget to continually decline, for Congress to do it’s best to protect NASA aerospace jobs in their districts, without consideration to supporting any long term vision for NASA, and for the President and Congress to be continually at odds with each other over spending priorities.

    No matter who the president is.

  • GUEST

    I agree-in the last several years NASA has been getting a sizable budget but doing little with it. The comparison between Dragon and Constellation/Orion is a good one. Dragon has spent a small fraction of the Constellation/Orion budget, but has developed a functional vehicle that is about to go on-line within months. Constellation/Orion have billions in expenditures now well into the double digits, yet has essentially nothing to show for it. Some dead weight being ejected out of a cargo plane to test parachutes? The missions and requirements for Constellation/Orion, which was step #1, are not yet well defined. There is little or no work ongoing to develop a service module for the vehicle, which means they have really not even begun to develop a functional vehicle. There is hope that maybe an international partner will step forward to take on that job. There has been hope of this for several years. Lockheed has said that they are doing a complete and thorough job which may explain the cost in dollars and time, but Dragon was fully functional and with addition of a simple ECLS could have carried people on its last return.

    ISS is another prime example. Huge budgets, though a significant set of hardware was built by others at their expense. Lots of discussion of how to use this potentially very capable facility, and yet apparently little progress in establishing a suitable process for its use. Talk about establishing an independent user integration process and yet they have been talking for a long time. After 45 years of Apollo payloads, Skylab payloads, Shuttle payloads. Spacelab payloads, Spacehab payloads, Mir payloads, and fifteen years of ISS payloads, and yet they seem to be trying to reinvent the wheel and the new process seems to be slower and more difficult than what has been used previously. Why didn’t they adapt the already established processes?

    I agree with those who say that NASA needs to figure out how to do the job effectively and efficiently. I am all for more money for NASA if they show they would spend it wisely. But so far I have seen so little progress in human space in the last several years that I don’t think more money is the answer, not now.

  • Rhyolite

    I see word salad.

  • “America has enjoyed a half-century of leadership in space, but now that leadership is eroding ”

    Romney has become a serial liar. We just put the most sophisticated space bound instrument on Mars, a laboratory on wheels that will most likely answer if life ever existed on the red planet. A 150 million mile trip. It was like driving a hole in one from New York to California. If that isn’t leadership, I’d like to hear his definition.

  • Robert G. Oler

    This is at best word salad without croutons and at worst a bad understanding of the issues at NASA.

    “A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding, it needs clearer priorities.”

    that is absurd.

    NASA has had priorities in both human and uncrewed space flight…the issue has not been “what they are doing” it has been how it is done and “priorities” will not change that.

    By the time Cx was cancelled NASA had spent about 15 billion on essentially a spin off of the shuttle and a redo of Apollo…and was no where near making the booster work and was as they are now at least a decade away from flying.

    It is astonishing to me that NASA cannot redo an Apollo capsule (using spin off electronics from the 787 for Pete’s sake) for unde 1 billion total much less the 10-20 billion it is going to cost.

    that is not a problem of priorities but management and operation.

    More likely however all the words from Willard are…are word salad. His campaign is attempting to do nothing but pander to an ever increasingly “old” group that longs to be back in a bygone era that they are really redefined…associated with that of course is a campaign caught up in lying.

    Perhaps before long Ryan will claim he was in astronaut training…along with those marathons.

    RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    DougSpace wrote @ September 5th, 2012 at 11:55 am

    I am reading ITAR reform here>

    that is the joy of word salad…it can be anything you want it to be.

    Romney is a serial liar. he was pro choice, now he is pro life, he was for the mandate not is against it; he has learned to issue press releases which say nothing but what the person reading them wants them to say RGO

  • amightywind

    Romney is a serial liar. he was pro choice, now he is pro life, he was for the mandate not is against it; he has learned to issue press releases…

    Obama was against the government mandate before he was for it, for single payer before he was against it, opposed to gay marriage before he was for it, and for Project Constellation before he was against it, and said we are better off now than 4 years ago. Wow! Just wow!

  • Robert G. Oler

    amightywind wrote @ September 5th, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    not really no.

    Willad has changed positions on almost every issue of any note…and all his changes seem to coincide with elections.

    And the lying continues. Ryan for a few days was simply lying about the number of bankruptcies…RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    DougSpace wrote @ September 5th, 2012 at 11:55 am

    On the one hand, I don’t see SLS being sustainable, but on the other hand, canceling SLS without replacing that capability would prevent those grand manned missions which are specifically pointed to as inspiring the future generations.

    There is nothing to replace.

    What defined problem does the SLS solve? Who is supposed to use it’s capabilities over the next 20 years? No one can afford to use it, and no one has signed up to use it.

    We just built a 450mt space station in LEO using modules no bigger than 20mt in mass, so we can already do more with existing rockets than the SLS can do with a single 130mt payload launch.

    On the other hand, if we were to use the $30B SLS budget to build payloads that fit on existing 20mt-class rockets like Delta IV Heavy, Ariane 5, Proton, H-IIB – even the Falcon Heavy – we could be launching those missions as soon as the payloads are ready to go.

    Canceling the SLS will not slow down our ability to explore space, and my opinion is that we can be exploring faster and better without it.

  • Robert G. Oler wrote:

    It is astonishing to me that NASA cannot redo an Apollo capsule (using spin off electronics from the 787 for Pete’s sake) for unde 1 billion total much less the 10-20 billion it is going to cost.

    Part of the problem is that Congress tells NASA how to design it.

    Congress directed NASA to use existing Shuttle technology where possible, so the exterior of Orion will have Shuttle-era tiles — all in the name of keeping those contractors in business, and those campaign contributions rolling in.

    Meanwhile, the commercial companies are building their capsules out of 21st Century composite materials. Congress doesn’t tell them how to build their capsules.

  • Vladislaw

    Robert wrote:

    “the issue has not been “what they are doing” it has been how it is done and “priorities” will not change that.”

    Unless you make the priority to change how it is done. Ban cost plus fixed with contracts for NASA. I know I have heard more than a few voices say that should one of the tools in the tool box. I say that tool has been so abused by NASA and it’s contractors that now THEY have lost that tool until they PROVE they can be trusted with it.

    Personally, I honestly do not believe there is that much going on at NASA that needs the cost plus parachute.

    Competitively bid, fix price, milestone based contracts until such time the American taxpayer thinks NASA and congress can be trusted. For those one or two odd projects.. if they are so freakin’ ungodly important then throw a billion dollar space prize at the problem. It will be cheaper in the long run, expecially considering the Orion “GOLDEN” capsule. 10 BILLION for a disposable capsule … insanity on bun

    And they try and call it .. American Exceptionalism? American insanity is more apt.

  • Vladislaw

    “Obama was against the government mandate before he was for it, “

    hillarious, Let’s take every single video of President Obama and Govenor Romney where they are speaking policy positions .. going back to when they both start campaigning…. then lets compare all their positions from 1998 until today and then compare it to what they are saying now…

    Lets see who has flipped the most.

  • Mr. Romney contradicts himself.

    First he says this:

    America has enjoyed a half-century of leadership in space, but now that leadership is eroding despite the hard work of American industry and government personnel.

    Then he says this:

    Independent access to space, the launch of satellites, and the travel of citizens to and from space continue to be seen as major technical achievements that convey not only America’s military and economic power, but also the power of American values.

    So which is it? Are we “eroding” or are we experiencing “major technical achievements that convey America’s military and economic power”?

    Like others said … word salad.

    Having written position papers before for candidates, I’ve no doubt this was written by a couple staffers who dumped into the bowl various personal opinions. Some of it came from Michael Griffin’s camp, some of it from those who want to grow the private sector.

    It’s all meaningless rhetoric.

    No President has the unilateral authority to do what he wants. The programs are defined and funded by Congress. The President’s job is to manage those programs. The President can propose something but, unless Congress goes along, forget it.

  • Malmesbury

    Personally, I honestly do not believe there is that much going on at NASA that needs the cost plus parachute.

    True. But mostly importantly, failure is an option.

    For too long the pattern has been -

    1) This is The One True Program
    2) The cost is irrelevant
    3) It is more important than that…
    4) The cost has gone up by 10x the estimates? Can’t afford that… What do you mean technical problems?
    5) Cancel.
    1) This is The One True Program……

    Kistler failing was how such things should happen – can’t meet the milestone? So sorry. Goodbye. Not another semi-truck full of money to fix the problem.

  • amightywind

    No President has the unilateral authority to do what he wants.

    Perhaps. But this President, as inept as he is, was powerful enough to damage it severely. The office of President counts.

  • Coastal Ron

    Vladislaw wrote @ September 5th, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Ban cost plus fixed with contracts for NASA.

    Then no one will bid to build anything unique NASA needs built. It’s a simple as that.

    Cost-plus has it’s uses, and my perspective on this comes from working for government contractors for a number of years (years at commercial companies too).

    The way to fix the problem you’re trying to fix is to do at least two things:

    1. Better requirements up front. Normally this means understanding what the needs are and what the limitations are, but it also gets back to making sure you’re not asking for something “too new”. JWST is a good example of too many new technologies, and since so much was new their understanding of the requirements was too vague.

    2. Better management of the program. Management needs to understand when the program is going out of scope (see #1 above). Sometimes bad managers are put in charge, which is the result of humans being imperfect (there are only so many “A” teams to go around). Nevertheless, someone has to hold mediocre managers responsible, and if they don’t, then you end up with programs like Constellation which was spiraling out of control after just a few short years.

    An addendum to this is to make sure if NASA (or however) wants to keep making this product, that the responsibility for it transfer to the private sector – turn it into a service. This is where we are at with rockets, where NASA actually knows less about rockets than the contractors they have building the SLS. The private sector only needs to be told what payloads NASA wants put into space, and they will take care of it. There might be some negotiation and changes in response to price and capability, but there is no reason NASA has to become a owner/operator in this day & age.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Coastal Ron wrote @ September 5th, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Vladislaw wrote @ September 5th, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    I concur with both comments.

    Look in the end the bottom line of this campaign between Obama and Willard is the notion of where and what the money raised through taxation goes to…

    In Willards world the prime recipient with little or no government oversight are corporations. These have become the big hog suckers in the last 12 years…a bloated defense budget with (mostly) programs that dont work, eat lots of money but have to continue for year after year because “we need them for a strong America”…and on the smaller but same scale we have space programs and projects that do the same thing…

    in both (and other) efforts managers are not accountable, there are really no reasons unacceptable for the overruns and they are just accepted. It is Ike’s military industrial complex come to life…and as the Republic has started to lose manufactoring jobs the only real jobs left are those with government contracts…and so industry has lined up at the trough for them. Now what is left is to tackle the money that goes to social programs and to try and move that toward the “private world”…that is the reason to “privatize” social security or medicare or all the other “cash cows”…

    And of course just as Willard was not shy about taking a federal bailout for Bain…he isnt shy about bailing out his other corporate buddies who get into issues.

    The big issue under Willard for space efforts is will those corporations get included in the dinner bell. Read carefully Willards answers to space questions and what leaped out at me was the notion that somehow NASA is related to our “security”…

    If there was going to be a Willard presidency that is where the cash will be (ie Trillion plus defense budgets) and it doesnt take to much of a blink of an eye to see NASA and is space efforts start being somehow wrapped up in the fantasy that the GOP has had for sometime and that is the notion of a “Space Patrol”. Willard wont talk about that because it is laughable…but one can see the advisors around him and that is their theory on what space is good for.

    What is really needed in the DoD and NASA is the end to cost plus. The F-35 should not be cost plus; its a crewed airplane, we have been building them for almost a century…we should have a notion of how to do the two points that Vladislaw raised.

    same with most NASA programs…

    As one guy said about the space station during the Reagan 1984 rollout…”the viewgraphs never match the dollar figures”…how true that is.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Googaw

    Romney: A strong and successful NASA does not require more funding

    In this budget environment, this translates to: NASA will not be protected from budget cuts.

    Like the GOP platform, Romney’s people mention here not a single specific NASA program present or future that they support. Romney’s mention of Curiosity on the campaign trail may be the only example of such a statement since he began his campaign. By sharp contrast he’s singled out the futuristic fantasies of his opponents for criticism a number of times: Newt’s moon base and Barack’s healing the planet being two well-known examples. Mitt’s emphasis on the practical has worked well for his campaign efforts.

    Under Romney NASA would be “focused” indeed, and not in the direction of government central planning and funding of the alleged start-up of fantasy industries-of-the-future. The same Hayekian philosophy Romney and Ryan bring to other efforts of the federal government to do this, as in solar power, they will bring to space as well.

    Obama mentions ISS in the past tense and Orion in the future tense, which also doesn’t sound like good news for the Crony Capitalism & Corruption sect.

    But of course as Heinrich said these answers are “word salad”, and folks will read into it support for their own pet programs.

  • Vladislaw

    “Then no one will bid to build anything unique NASA needs built. It’s a simple as that.”

    Really Ron? … NO FIRM .. AT ALL would send in a bid? I honestly do not believe, especially now with so much pressure on business they are going to pass up work.

    I have seen plenty of bids for NASA work that are lower than the usual suspects bid.. but they routinly get passed over for the major stakeholders….

    Again.. I do not buy the arguement. Do the fixed price bid first… no takers? Add an INCENTIVE not a cost plus deal where the incentive is to make the job more expensive with a ton of escalator clauses.

    What is all this “unique” work that NASA is getting down? Orion? SLS? James Webb?

    If the taxpayer has to suffer projects prices being inflated 10 to 20 times because of cost plus .. you are HONESTLY going to argue that inflated pricing is ALL due to unknown variables and they were just to damn stupid to nail down a price within one order of magnitude?

    Cost plus does not provide the proper incentives. 50 years… a half of a century … well Ron… for me .. they had their chance. If cost plus means it will NEVER come in at reasonable numbers .. I am willing for NASA to do without it until they are a little more articulate with their numbers?

  • DCSCA

    The Romney position on space, such as it is, is utterlt meaningless, as he changes like Florida weather. Romney, a fella with a history of pointing everywhere, is going no where. and the only space policy that matters to him is the square footage of his 13 residences..

  • tom hancock

    He supports NASA. Great. If I ran NASA I would direct our efforts into building large spacecraft based @ ISS or one day a more favored orbit using a commercial space station. NASA should do exploration. Go back to the moon twice a year, trips out a few million miles and one day Mars. Go to Mars, again and again and again until we learn how to stay. Once we develop the ability to reach Mars most of the solar system will be open to us. That should be the goal for the next 20 years.

    Cheers!

    Tom Hancock

  • E.P, Grondine

    AW –

    I see you’re gettng off topic again, which is that ATK is a crummy company which could not deliver a crummy launcher anywhere ner on time or on budget.

    It is interesting to note that ATK is also manufacturing the composite frame for the Next Generation Space Telescope. Want to hear more about NASA’s experiences with ATK’s composites?

    Romney knows that there is little he can do to stop SpaceX, though that won’t stop anyone from trying a factually unfounded smear campaign.

    However limited Obama is, Romney can not handle the business of this nation the same way he did the business of Bain Capital.

    Hopefully at some point Romnet et al will learn about ULA.

  • @tom hancock
    Agreed. And the best way for NASA to begin the part of your scenario consisting of exploration beyond LEO is with existing commercial launchers and depots. Not SLS. That will allow NASA to do it sooner than SLS and within budget.

  • Heinrich Monroe

    I have seen plenty of bids for NASA work that are lower than the usual suspects bid.. but they routinly get passed over for the major stakeholders….

    A few points about cost-plus. Firstly that, yes, we’ve all been aware of many low bids from not-the-usual-suspects. In my experience, these are bids from suspects whose credibility is questionable. They may not have a record to confidently point to. The name of the game isn’t getting low bids, but getting the job done.

    Secondly, a related point is that there are indeed incentives with cost-plus. If a company gets a cost plus contract, and totally hoses their numbers, that’s going to go on their performance record. The performance record is considered in future proposals they make, and won’t look good if the reason their numbers were bad was a mistake on their part.

    Finally, let’s be careful about flinging numbers around for cost inflation. A topical project these days for number flinging is JWST. That mission indeed is looking at a final cost that is more than an order of magnitude larger than the back-of-napkin numbers jotted down by some cost-clueless astronomers having drinks with some business development people fifteen years ago. But the real cost inflation for JWST is about a factor of two, and is based on the commitment that the agency had to give to Congress before starting Phase C, after PDR. Still not pretty, but nowhere near a factor of ten. So you can complain abut cost-clueless buyers, but that’s different than cost-plus.

    In fact, at least for Earth and space science missions, and especially for AO missions, rather than center-directed missions, cost-plus has worked pretty well (JWST is a HUGE exception to the rule, both fractionally and in total dollars). Human space flight programs are bigger ticket items, and often get concerted congressional attention. That attention doesn’t punish the contractor for overruns, but greases the cost-plus skids. Congress likes cost-plus! It puts more money in their district.

  • Coastal Ron

    Vladislaw wrote @ September 5th, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    NO FIRM .. AT ALL would send in a bid? I honestly do not believe, especially now with so much pressure on business they are going to pass up work.

    You have to look at it from a business perspective. Cost-plus contracts are used when there is not enough definition for companies to submit fixed-price bids. NASA one-off programs are great examples of this, because no one – not even NASA – knows what the final specs are supposed to be for products like MSL or JWST. Quite often these are iterative designs that change as they find out what really works and what doesn’t.

    You don’t see it from the outside, but government bids are pretty costly affairs for companies. They have to set up teams, assign program managers, they have budgets – someone has to make a proposal that they not only have a reasonable chance winning, but that it will be a profitable contract for the company to win. Companies I’ve worked for have not submitted bids after they determine they can’t submit a winning bid and make money on the contract (sometimes just before the bid is due). It does happen.

    So take away the ability for risk on NASA’s side of the equation as the customer, and companies will respond in three ways:

    1. They will build exactly what NASA has proposed, regardless if it works or not.

    2. They will bid extremely high prices to cover all contingencies.

    3. The most qualified companies that NASA would want to bid on the programs won’t bid at all, and companies that are focused on #1 & #2 above will be all that is left.

    Would this be a better situation that what we currently have? No.

    I think it would be better to fix the definition process and the management overview process.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Coastal Ron wrote @ September 6th, 2012 at 10:12 am

    You have to look at it from a business perspective. Cost-plus contracts are used when there is not enough definition for companies to submit fixed-price bids. NASA one-off programs are great examples of this, because no one – not even NASA – knows what the final specs are supposed to be for products like MSL or JWST>>

    This is precisely the mentality that should be changed. The only reason that these projects are not defined is that the notion of them is always “open ended” and scaled to the reality of the cost plus environment…

    It is not impossible to build these projects on fixed price; its just that they have to be thought through; more then just “on the back of anapkin”. RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    Heinrich Monroe wrote @ September 6th, 2012 at 9:46 am

    A few points about cost-plus. Firstly that, yes, we’ve all been aware of many low bids from not-the-usual-suspects. In my experience, these are bids from suspects whose credibility is questionable.>>

    a lot of these come from NASA. go back to the original space station proposals which were 16 people in various configurations for 8 billion in 84 dollars…as Ed Boland told one of the NASA geeks “if you build this for 8 billion in constant dollars I’ll eat my hat”…he wasnt wrong RGO

  • Vladislaw

    Ron, my apologies if I sounded a little ‘heated’ but when you add up, how much hardward and infrastructure we could have in space right now, except for all those billions going for cost plus pork trains, like the gold plated, gem encrusted, disposable, Orion capsule .. well It really does grind my gears.

    Having did a couple smaller government construction contracts that had to be bid before you actually got to tear into the structure to see what the actual damages were to be repaired they had to be basically blind bids. But I could not even imagine trying to bid 100k to 200k for a 10,000 dollar remodel and repair job. Unless you were planning on using golden nails, you would not need that much money, because it would be impossible to justify spending it all. The only way to get away with that kind of bid would be a cost plus non competitive bidding arrangment.

    So the equation is rather simple:

    Does the cost of the abuse, overweigh the results of the legit cost plus bids that actually deliver a working product for a reasonable price.

    Are we going to suffer more by the loss of the couple projects that are successful or are we suffering more from the opportunity costs of the loss of all other hardware and services we now cannot afford because of the cost plus abuse?

  • Vladislaw

    “Firstly that, yes, we’ve all been aware of many low bids from not-the-usual-suspects. In my experience, these are bids from suspects whose credibility is questionable. They may not have a record to confidently point to.”

    I do understand and agree to a point.

    When the CEV was announced and all the bids came in, Burt Rutan and T/Space said 5 million a seat for a four passenger capsule.

    All those bids were tossed, the ESAS came in and suddenly we had the pork train nightmare, Ares I. 12 billion dollars later and congress canceling Constellation, we have instead the new SLS and Orion and more billions being spent.

    Now … call me a starry eyed dreamer in the ability of American entrepreneurs and our capitalist system, but we could have funded 10 burt rutans in that same time and leased 10 Bigelow BA 330′s a year and still had billions in change.

  • Coastal Ron

    Vladislaw wrote @ September 6th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    When the CEV was announced and all the bids came in, Burt Rutan and T/Space said 5 million a seat for a four passenger capsule.

    Just as we saw with the ATK bid for CCiCap, some companies that look like they are qualified to bid on a contract really aren’t, or at least they submitted a bid that doesn’t look doable for a number of reasons. Or Griffin rigged the bid process – hard to tell.

    All those bids were tossed, the ESAS came in and suddenly we had the pork train nightmare, Ares I. 12 billion dollars later and congress canceling Constellation, we have instead the new SLS and Orion and more billions being spent.

    Lots of wrong things went into the decisions and costs associated with Constellation. The Orion itself was whipsawed around design-wise by the lack of Ares I definition, so that gets back to focusing on the definition phase of a contract – someone (i.e. Griffin) should have stood up said “Whoa, we’re not going to continue on Orion until the Ares I performance specs are locked down”.

    However, forcing Lockheed Martin to submit a firm-fixed price for Orion before Ares I specs were locked down wouldn’t have been a good idea – what weight and capability do they assume?

  • Heinrich Monroe

    Now … call me a starry eyed dreamer in the ability of American entrepreneurs and our capitalist system, but we could have funded 10 burt rutans in that same time and leased 10 Bigelow BA 330′s a year and still had billions in change.

    But that’s EXACTLY the premise on which economies come from commercial space. It’s the vendor who knows what they can build, and has a very good idea how much it will cost. In fact, their investors have made very sure that these costs are well vetted. If NASA comes in and says, OK, you’ll build THIS, the way we want it, in the color and flavor we want it (but sorta sorta like what you say you can build), all bets are off. The vendor can’t be as sure about costs. NASA is asking them to build something that the vendor may have some experience with, but it’s not what they very carefully priced out for themselves. So the costs they come up with are based on interpolations and extrapolations.

    Commercial space is identically where the supplier decides what they think the market will want, and understands exactly how to build it. NASA can buy it, if it meets their needs. If it doesn’t quite meet their needs, then those needs might have to bend a bit. In classic government procurement, “needs” don’t bend once procurement starts. Simply can’t happen.

    Now, as to whether ten Bigelow BA330′s could have met the needs of ISS, it’s not at all clear. Those needs might have had to bend a whole lot. But I’ll be starry eyed like you and say — why not?

  • Vladislaw

    “Just as we saw with the ATK bid for CCiCap, some companies that look like they are qualified to bid on a contract really aren’t, or at least they submitted a bid that doesn’t look doable for a number of reasons. Or Griffin rigged the bid process – hard to tell.”

    The question is not, if this or that individual company can perform. The question is if 10 companies were funded at a fixed price, milestone based contract, would we have a couple companies flying or not at the end and is that price lower than what was produced under the cost plus Constellation method.

    We know what went into space under the cost plus Constellation, Orion, SLS method and what it cost us, we know what went into space under COTS and what it cost us. For me .. no contest.

    The companies have to put more of their own skin into the game so you are going to weed out the firms not strong enough to compete at lot sooner and cheaper.

    Or am I way off here?

  • E.P, Grondine

    Hi Vlad –

    Yeah, I get pretty burned up as well.

    I suppose, for that matter, that is why most posters come here: to vent their frustrations.

    I suppose on the bright side, our space sector is not as screwed up as Russia’s.

    Oh, well, at least the Soyuz is flying.

  • Coastal Ron

    Vladislaw wrote @ September 6th, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    The question is not, if this or that individual company can perform. The question is if 10 companies were funded at a fixed price, milestone based contract, would we have a couple companies flying or not at the end and is that price lower than what was produced under the cost plus Constellation method.

    Well I think performance is a big question, because not every company can scale up from small to big and still perform the same. SpaceX benefits from a CEO that has scaled companies before, and they have had the money to do things right. RpK failed COTS, which is a good example.

    However I see Orion/MPCV and Commercial Crew as two separate solutions to two different challenges. Orion/MPCV is oriented towards exploration, whereas Commercial Crew is oriented towards point-to-point transportation. Because of those differences, it’s impossible to do an apple-to-apples comparison.

    Could Rutan or T/Space have produced an operational commercial crew system? Sure. Could they have produced an operational exploration vehicle that met NASA’s needs? I think Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman would be better at that, since they have the in-house skill sets for that type of work, whereas Rutan and T/Space would need to hire that kind of talent (and big scaling has big risks).

    That said, I think we are starting to see the commercial aerospace and NASA type standards getting closer. COTS, CCDev and CCiCap are doing a lot of cross-polination, with commercial aerospace understanding NASA a little better, and NASA getting more comfortable with commercial aerospace.

    Having worked for largest government contractors, I see that they can build great products. But they need clean specifications if they are to bid something fixed-price, because change means risk for both the government and the contractor.

    But most of our innovation comes from small companies and they have a low tolerance for risk from a financial standpoint, which is what fixed-price contracts represent. So whatever solution to this dilemma is pushed, I hope small companies can continue to compete for important parts of our future in space.

  • Mr. Blake

    I agree with Coastal Ron’s first point about the SLS; it is not as practical to be using the SLS as some of the other spacecrafts that have been created and the funding could go elsewhere. I think by canceling the SLS we would have a bigger budget for other programs that would be more efficient and give us more information. The SLS is more costly and does not give us as much data as some of the other technologies we have developed. I believe if we divert the funding to existing rockets, like Coastal Ron said, then we could have more successful missions and save more money. I also believe a lot of the funding could be put towards unmanned missions which give us more information on space than most manned missions do.

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