NASA

ASAP report focuses on commercial crew funding and contracting risk

Late last week NASA released the annual report by the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), highlighting the key safety-related issues the independent panel sees with the space agency’s programs. This year’s report highlights in particular NASA’s commercial crew efforts, worrying that a lack of funding and non-traditional contracting mechanisms could increase risks to crews that will fly on these vehicles.

“Of all of the topics reviewed by the ASAP this year, the one receiving the most time and attention was unquestionably the Commercial Crew Program (CCP),” ASAP noted in its report, calling attention to it also in cover letters that accompanied the report to the NASA Administrator, the Speaker of the House, and the President of the Senate. ASAP expressed concern about the use of Space Act Agreements, as it has in the past, although the panel agreed with NASA’s use of fixed-price contracts for the first phase of the certification process. However, ASAP argued that the second, and much larger, phase of the certification process should be done with more conventional cost-plus contracts than fixed-price ones, as “we believe both schedule and safety would be at risk in a fixed-price environment because of the relative inability to defer or apply resources to problem areas that will inevitably develop.”

A larger issue than contracting vehicles, though, was funding uncertainty for the commercial crew effort. The ASAP report noted that funding levels for the program in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 were approximately half of the administration’s original request, with an anticipation of a similar shortfall from the requested $850 million in FY2013. “Given NASA’s budget history, it is unlikely there will be additional funding,” the report stated. Instead, ASAP believes that the program will “make tradeoffs and changes to performance measures that would include accepting additional safety risk” with limited NASA insight that “could lead to unknowingly accepting substantial increases in risk to the safety of crews.” (The report acknowledged another option, simply stretching out schedules, but apparently didn’t consider it likely and didn’t explain why.)

ASAP seemed more sanguine about the larger Exploration Systems Development (ESD) effort, which includes the Space Launch System (SLS) launcher and Orion spacecraft. “ESD is a program with wide support,” the report stated. “Unlike CCP, ESD funding levels have remained relatively constant,” although acknowledging that flat budgets create challenges for development programs that typically have a “classic skewed bell curve” spending profile.

The report doesn’t note, though, that Orion and SLS funding are considerably below levels authorized in the agency’s 2010 authorization act: in FY2012, for example, NASA received approximately $1.2 billion for Orion and $1.5 billion for SLS, but was authorized to spend $1.4 billion for Orion and $2.65 billion for SLS. Unless one believes the authorization bill figures overestimate the costs of these systems, there’s potential schedule or other risks with their development, particularly with the SLS.

67 comments to ASAP report focuses on commercial crew funding and contracting risk

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “The report doesn’t note, though, that Orion and SLS funding are considerably below levels authorized in the agency’s 2010 authorization act: in FY2012, for example, NASA received approximately $1.2 billion for Orion and $1.5 billion for SLS, but was authorized to spend $1.4 billion for Orion and $2.65 billion for SLS. Unless one believes the authorization bill figures overestimate the costs of these systems, there’s potential schedule or other risks with their development, particularly with the SLS.”

    It is odd for the ASAP to express concern about a ~$300 million budget shortfall on commercial crew and say nothing about a $1.3 billion (with a “b”) budget shortfall on MPCV/SLS. This is even more true when the commercial program benefits from industry contributions while MPCV/SLS has no industry cost-sharing.

    The ASAP’s point — that budget pressures can breed bad engineering decisions that impact risk and safety — is a valid one. But they sure don’t seem to have a grasp of the actual budget pressures on these two programs. That or the ASAP is willfully ignoring the budget pressures on MPCV/SLS.

    This seems to be a chronic weakness in ASAP reports. They fly at the 30,000-foot level of general safety reminders, but rarely dive down into the specific programmatics of the programs they’re critiquing, leading to a lot of misapplied safety principles.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    A funding problem that the ASAP (and others) should be worried about is yesterday’s ESA/NASA agreement on the MPCV service module.

    Under the agreement, ESA will provide only one (1) copy of the service module. After that, it will be up to US industry to build successive copies using ESA intellectual property — and we all know how easy and cost-effective it is to build to designs created by another organization (nevertheless country)…

    Worse, ESA has only secured 60% of the necessary funding. 40% of MPCV’s service module is still unfunded:

    http://www.spacepolicyonline.com/news/nasa-esa-agreement-on-orion-service-module-is-for-only-one-unit-plus-spares

    I’m glad Gerst and the rest of HEOMD has opened up to these kinds of agreements. It was good to see the Bigelow agreement on an expandable test module at ISS yesterday. And it’s okay to put other countries on the critical path.

    But it’s not okay when the agreement itself carries substantial near- and long-term budget risks. It’s hard to see the benefit to NASA of this ESA agreement unless NASA desperately need to make moves like this to keep MPCV in the budget box.

  • amightywind

    The biggest schedule risk for SLS is active resistance to congress’s directives by an activist NASA leadership bent on promoting Crony Crew at any cost.

    Under the agreement, ESA will provide only one (1) copy of the service module. After that, it will be up to US industry to build successive copies using ESA intellectual property

    Anyone know the reason for handing ESA this gratuity? Shrewd. We have a NASA leadership that fancies themselves to be diplomats rather than technical managers.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “The biggest schedule risk for SLS is active resistance to congress’s directives”

      As Jeff already pointed out in the original post, Congress has underfunded MPCV by $200 million in the past year alone. NASA leadership isn’t holding up MPCV. Congress is.

      “bent on promoting Crony Crew at any cost.”

      Commercial crew has been subject to repeated, full and open competitions. With the exception of boosters to replace the SRBs at some future point in time, SLS and MPCV have been sole-sourced at the direction of congressional authorization language.

      The latter is the definition of cronyism. Not the former.

      “Anyone know the reason for handing ESA this gratuity?”

      Congress has underfunded MPCV, and as a result, NASA can’t afford to develop its service module. So NASA used the other currency they have access to — ISS support owed by ESA and other partners — and relieved ESA of that debt in exchange for service module development.

      Unfortunately, it’s going to cost more in the long-run when LockMart tries to reproduce the European design State-side after the first prototype. And it may never get off the ground if ESA’s member states don’t come up with the other 40% of the funding they need to develop that one prototype. And the design for that prototype is some 1,200lbs. overweight already.

      If Congress fully funded the botched MPCV/SLS design that they dictated, NASA wouldn’t have to resort to such desperate measures. But Congress’s priority isn’t fully funding an actual human deep space exploration capability. Their priority is keeping the old Shuttle workforce employed.

    • Robert G. Oler

      amightywind
      January 17, 2013 at 9:07 am · Reply

      The biggest schedule risk for SLS is active resistance to congress’s directives by an activist NASA leadership bent on promoting Crony Crew at any cost.>>

      You and Whittington both are stuck answering the question why SLS/Orion is not crony capitalism and Commercial crew cargo are but then again that is typical right wing tactics.

      I would just discuss the threat to SLS/ORION

      there are really three distinct threats closing on the systems which will likely kill it in whatever budget negotiations/deals work out this year

      1. They cannot seem to keep the engineering on track.

      It is hard for me to understand why…but I htink I have figured it out. There are competent people at NASA and the various contractors but they are both SLS and Orion floundering. Orion and SLS are overmass…they wont admit it about SLS/but if you read the public pronouncements between the lines you see it…the baffling issue on the “tank” is the key to understanding.

      Really however these are both “low risk” projects; ie there is not a lot of ground breaking engineering or technology done here and the is why they are going so badly

      2. I believe that this is cost although there are some definition problems here….there isnt enough money being spent on engineering…most of it is being spent on keeping people employed and having production lines “on” it is the F-35 problem. Instead of a clever redo of Apollo and a simple rethink of teh shuttle stack (although converting to an inline structure is not trivial) they have tried to “plus up” the Apollo/SLS system and just made bad choices along the way

      3. the third thing is no mission. They are i a cycle here…development cost are high; but to preserve teh hardware from shuttle legacy cost are “large” and that drives launch rates down which of course drives launch cost per vehicle “up”…this coupled with declining or at best static NASA budgets is just simply moving the program into a diablo canyon.

      The contractors are doing their part; IE Boeing has some neat viewgraphs out about a “robust lunar program” with SLS but there are of course no cost figures attached to this…and the time lines stretch into eternity

      To paraphrase Admiral Tom Connely “there is not enough money in Christindom” to build these programs.

      sorry …RGO

    • DCSCA

      Politics, Windy. Pop the hood of your car and you’ll discover a lot of parts aren’t stamped ‘made in the USA.’

  • I’m glad Gerst and the rest of HEOMD has opened up to these kinds of agreements. It was good to see the Bigelow agreement on an expandable test module at ISS yesterday. And it’s okay to put other countries on the critical path.

    But it’s not okay when the agreement itself carries substantial near- and long-term budget risks. It’s hard to see the benefit to NASA of this ESA agreement unless NASA desperately need to make moves like this to keep MPCV in the budget box.

    Agreed and if NASA gets more agreements for continuous service modules for the MPCV, it just might be what saves it.

    Of course there might be a demand from the ESA the MPCV carries European astros too.

    Retro-nationalists like Windy in Congress won’t like it, but like DBN says, NASA might need moves like this to keep MPCV in the budget box.

    • amightywind

      That is Neocon, thank you. An increase in international involvement to keep Orion in the budget box? Put down your crack pipe. Why do you reject the lessons of the past. I am sure the service module engineers at Lockmart are less excited about this development.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “An increase in international involvement to keep Orion in the budget box?”

        In the long-term, no. In the short-term, NASA has no choice. Congress is underfunding MPCV. Someone else has to fund service module development.

        • amightywind

          Here is a cautionary tale about aerospace outsourcing.

          • Dark Blue Nine

            You’re comparing apples and oranges. Boeing offshored 787 component production but not design and development. NASA is offshoring MPCV design and development but not production.

          • Coastal Ron

            amightywind opined:

            Here is a cautionary tale about aerospace outsourcing.

            No, not specific to aerospace, but industry in general.

            What it does prove is that “Old Space” is not immune to making bad decisions – no one is. But as that article points out, you have to understand the real reason you are outsourcing.

            It’s funny though, for someone who is so neocon you would think you would want the private sector taking over more of the jobs the government does, but apparently not for NASA. Too bad you’re not consistent…

            • amightywind

              Hadn’t noticed the folks at Forbes were socialists. Just pointing out that perceived savings of outsourcing are rarely realized, and the we citizens should remember it the next time the activists in NASA make another feel good international deal. Just cold hard neocon logic.

            • Malmesbury

              Haven’t you noticed? – Republicans are socialists above the Kármán line and free marketeers below it, Democrats are the other way round…..

              That and military expenditure – the one kind of government spending republicans love and Democrats hate….

        • Malmesbury

          Pretty simple. The budget box is the size of the Congressional, Senatorial and Presidential interest in the box.

          Making Orion international means that the “internationalists” and “diplomatists” in the political scene (those politicians who have a personal interest in those areas) may or may not get on board.

          The “Space pork” types aren’t going to be enough when Orion/SLS hit trouble.

          Think building a political coalition…..

      • Face it Windy, neocon philosophies are Stone Age and against the tide of history. MPCV will end up an international project like “Space Station Freedom.”

        If it survives at all.

  • Robert G. Oler

    The one two punch of SpaceX and if he can do it Bigelow and the space station module are the end of the road for the Apollo days…I assume Bigelow can make good on 20 million and if you look at the rest of his cost schedule for the “Station Alpha” …thats amazing. RGO

    • amightywind

      I would love to see a Bigelow space station. I’ve always said that. Concepts I’ve seen are modest and may have a commercial business argument. Bolting a Bigalow module on to the ISS is like a boil on its butt, and just as useful.

      • Robert G. Oler

        amightywind
        January 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm · Reply

        I would love to see a Bigelow space station. I’ve always said that. Concepts I’ve seen are modest and may have a commercial business argument. Bolting a Bigalow module on to the ISS is like a boil on its butt, and just as useful.”

        really quite silly…

        I am convinced that you and Whittington and many other “keen minds” of the right wing are so fracked up with Obama and the triumph of sanity in the last and previous election that you no longer are thinking rationally. if Obama said he was for clear skies you would probably argue for pollution.

        There are in the scheme of things a very very few things which can make the bloated crony capitalism investment in ISS “pay off” and one of them is the development of affordable private capital technology for human (and other) spaceflight.

        There are examples of “human” use of “areas” where there is complete dependence on technology for every aspect of survival; but there is none so far which is anything but the province of government. Go to the South Pole, you get to breath without technology. Go into a submarine and you are 100 percent dependent on technology for human survival.

        Same in space.the development of affordable technology which enables that survival and indeed operations is essential and is completely the domain of private capital and innovation.

        If Bigelow (or anyone) is able to reach a level where they make “Spacestation Alpha” profitable for “them” they are going to have to make what is done their profitable for the folks who are their customers.

        This IS NOT TRUE for ISS…ISS (or an EML station or a lunar base) run by various governments has no requirement to be profitable to exist; it merely has to be affordable under current budget conditions. We are not going to Mars because such an effort is not affordable under current budget conditions.

        If ISS enable Bigelow (and it is enabling SpaceX) to refine their technology in terms of cost and use; then it will be a major accomplishment. indeed it will probably be a greater accomplishment then all the “science” done at the station, even the stuff that pretends to be based on a process to make money.

        Robert G. Oler

      • JimNobles

        Bolting a Bigalow module on to the ISS is like a boil on its butt, and just as useful.

        I can see the utility of it. If it all goes well NASA can say they now have the capability to expand the ISS and construct other space structures for less cost using the inflatables. And point out that they are supporting industry and creating jobs. Bigelow can point to it and say, “Look, my stuff works, it’s already in space and people are using it.” Although it may get used mainly as the trash room.

        On the other hand it looks like a dinky little thing and reminds me of a Jiffy Pop popcorn frying pan after the popcorn has popped. I guess they had to keep it small so they could launch it without having to pay for another launch.

        Overall I’m happy to see this happen.

        • Robert G. Oler

          JimNobles
          January 18, 2013 at 10:34 am · Reply

          On the other hand it looks like a dinky little thing and reminds me of a Jiffy Pop popcorn frying pan after the popcorn has popped. I guess they had to keep it small so they could launch it without having to pay for another launch.>>

          Thank you…I had been trying to summon up the analogy from my childhood and was thumbing through the “shake and bake and I helped” memories trying to get to the popcorn manufactor/marketer..

          Good marketing is as they say (or did) eternal, now its only good for a short time as its mostly scantily clad babes shaking their various parts…but that one was pretty good.

          ON THE OTHER HAND…the ability to market his product as tested and to actually test it and figure out what does and doesnt is going to be of enormous value.

          ““Look, my stuff works, it’s already in space and people are using it.”

          LOL RGO

        • JimNobles

          And at the risk of being redundant let me add something else. SpaceX should get some good press out of this too. If it goes as planned Dragon will be essentially pulling a spare space station room out of its rear end and having it installed on station. Just in the normal course of their already contracted cargo carrying duties. All in a day’s work if you please.

          That’s fairly impressive if you think about it.

  • DCSCA

    “A larger issue than contracting vehicles, though, was funding uncertainty for the commercial crew effort. The ASAP report noted that funding levels for the program in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 were approximately half of the administration’s original request, with an anticipation of a similar shortfall from the requested $850 million in FY2013.”

    Good.

    • Neil Shipley

      Typical unthinking response.
      To show you why, let me simply point you to the latest public update on the CiCap Program where NASA informed the attendees that the commerical companies had made over a 1000 requests for use of NASA data and in addition, entered into approximately 73 cost reimbursable contracts across, I think, some 28 states. This is called ‘spinoff’ and means jobs and money for workers in those NASA facilities. And the important point to understand here is that the money is coming from, wait for it, non-government (i.e. non-taxpayer) sources.
      And don’t spin the tired argument of hand-outs to the commercials. They’re milestone-based performance contracts. No completion, no payment.

  • DCSCA

    “We are not going to Mars because such an effort is not affordable under current budget conditions.”

    Nonsense. It a matter of budgeting priorities, not affordability. A single nation that blows $2 billion a week on the Afghan War could manage launching out on a human expedition to Mars w/a different set of priorities on the agenda– and w/international cooporation, the voyage would be that much less costly.

    Of course, the data from the unmanned probes make questioning any reason to go in the first place all the more viable– particularly w/t probability of sample return missions on the horizon. Researching Martian matter in isolation on the ISS would make some use out of it as a legtitimate ‘research’ lab if it isn’t alrerady splashed. Of course, if by some miracle of discovery, it is determined Martian material has value- like cures cancer- they’d mount some sort of mission PDQ. Otherwise, Mars today is a sandbox for the planetary science kids to play w/their increasingly expensive toys.

    The next logical step out for BEO HSF ops is a return to Luna where off-planet habitstion hardware, methods and procedures can be developed and refined along w/t the template development of general purpose spacecraft. And if the the robots report it’s worth the trip, use that knowledge base to press on to Mars by 2075 or 2100.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Nonsense. It a matter of budgeting priorities, not affordability.”

      Here comes Tinkerbell again. Just throw enough of other people’s money at a problem and it will solve itself.

      • DCSCA

        “Just throw enough of other people’s money at a problem and it will solve itself.”

        Which is precisely why commercial HSF has to be purged from all government funding and subsidies and forced to seek full financing in the private capital markets. Let Musk pump his entire fortune into Space X, if he truly believes in it, not a mere $100 million. If commercial can fly w/o government burdening the taxpayers in providing both a faux destination and significant financing of redundant toys to access the doomed platform (thereby socializing the risk on the many to benefit a select few), let’em go for it. But at their own risk and on their own dime. And after the Cold War relic is splashed, you’ll have a fleet small volume LEO vehicles capable of going in circles, no place, fast. Dismissed.

        • Dark Blue Nine

          “Which is precisely why commercial HSF has to be purged from all government funding and subsidies…”

          Unlike MPCV, SLS, JWST, Curiousity, and other all-government efforts, commercial cargo and crew is performed on a fixed price basis for the government. They can’t come back for more taxpayer money.

          Only an unrealistic Tinkerbell wants a blank check for unlimited overruns on bloated, all-government programs.

          “Dismissed.”

          So cute. Tinkerbell still thinks he’s a teacher.

          • DCSCA

            “Only an unrealistic Tinkerbell wants a blank check for unlimited overruns on bloated, all-government programs.”

            The only pixie who has made mention a ‘blank check’ for space ops– is you.

            • Dark Blue Nine

              “The only pixie who has made mention a ‘blank check’ for space ops– is you.”

              Not me. Commercial crew and cargo are developed on a fixed price basis. And flying higher than your teeny-tiny butterfly wings can take you.

              But there’s no cap on those cost-plus SLS and MPCV contracts you keep wishing upon so fervently. So just sprinkle more of your faerie dust on these projects, and I’m sure sequestration and budget deals will pass them by and the taxpayer will keep coughing up the tens of billions of dollars required to keep their magical engineering welfare flowing decades from now.

              You’re so cute, Tinkerbell.

        • Robert G. Oler

          DCSCA
          January 18, 2013 at 1:37 am · Reply

          Which is precisely why commercial HSF has to be purged from all government funding and subsidies and forced to seek full financing in the private capital markets.>>

          Fortunately that has not been the viewpoint throughout most of the history of the US, if it had been we would not be the great nation we are today. No settling of west for instance…RGO

    • In a perfect world, this would be nice. Unfortunately creating technology to kill people swifter, cheaper and provides taxpayer subsidized jobs in the Red States drives the economy. It will continue to do so for the next 4 years anyway.

      There will be no increased funding for Star Fleet.

    • Robert G. Oler

      DCSCA
      January 17, 2013 at 5:33 pm · Reply

      nonsense. the nation would never have gone to war in Afland or Iraq if the people who were pushing the war had been honest with every and not lied like dogs about how long it would be, the cost in human lives, and the cost in dollars. instead the nation was told the wars would be fast, cheap in lives and that literally they would pay for themselves…and when that wasnt enough they were told Saddam was coming to kill us all.

      The unfortunate thing about human flights to mars is that the dollars are no longer hideable under either misquotes or whatever and the reasons for going are simply going to not convince anyone who is not a space junkie.

      Dont look now but over 70 percent of Americans would simply “walk away” from AFLAND…and cut defense spending below the 2001 levels.

      A sample return will not happen given the current cost or plans. RGO

      • Neil Shipley

        Agreed, and neither will another ‘Curiosity’.

        • Robert G. Oler

          Yeah they are fooling themselves on another Curiosity as well..’
          RGO

        • DCSCA

          We’ll see if they’ve learned anything from the Curiosity mess. Watching some of the televised space/science committee hearings of late and the PR spin they’ve been piping out to the MSM, it doesn’t appear they have. Hanging their hats on gee-whizzing the engineering accomplishment of the EDL team, which was outstanding, only goes so far. The science so far is not quite as wowing. But managing editors airing more pretty pictures of red rocks every week or so is nice; CBS (Pelley has an interest) and NBC ( as does Williams) give it air. ABC less so (Sawyer has little interest.) And chatter of the next probe to go to “look for signs of life.” And even that is qualified lately w/refernces to ‘life’ that was not a ‘contamination’ which they brought with them.

          • Robert G. Oler

            maybe on the next one they can have teh gee whiz engineering videos (WOW look what we did on 3 billion of the tax payers money) with better looking babes in tighter outfights…and a better looking guy wow SKYCRANE AWAY

            RGO

            • DCSCA

              maybe on the next one they can have teh gee whiz engineering videos (WOW look what we did on 3 billion of the tax payers money) with better looking babes in tighter outfights…and a better looking guy wow SKYCRANE AWAY

              LOL Don’t knock the smarts of savvy marketing, Robert. It worked for Von Braun. And of late, for Musk. =eyeroll=

        • E. P. Grondine

          Perhaps the “private sector” will move into the Mars rover market

          • DCSCA

            “Perhaps the “private sector” will move into the Mars rover market.”

            Perhaps. Certainly a closer-to-home-testbed might be a flurry of barebones rovers peppering Luna, festooned w/corporate logos and webams, operated via the web by curious, joystick-clutching kids and the elbow-patched, faculty lounge set for an hourly fee. Might generate a profit. Could be an enterprise for Al Gore to in invest his Current TV profits into. ;-)

    • Robert G. Oler

      DCSCA
      January 17, 2013 at 5:33 pm · Reply

      The next logical step out for BEO HSF ops is a return to Luna where off-planet habitstion hardware, methods and procedures can be developed and refined along w/t the template development of general purpose spacecraft>>

      LOL having spent 300 or so billion in constant dollars since 1980 there is no logical next step for NASA to do the things you indicate…the agency today is not capable of it.

      There is zero political support for such an effort..Whittington’s petition got exactly 12 signatures. RGO

      • DCSCA

        A sample return will not happen given the current cost or plans.” brewed RGO.

        Of course it will. Whether it is an American effort is uncertain.

        RE-”The next logical step out for BEO HSF ops is a return to Luna where off-planet habitation hardware, methods and procedures can be developed and refined along w/t the template development of general purpose spacecraft. And if the the robots report it’s worth the trip, use that knowledge base to press on to Mars by 2075 or 2100.” There’s no reference to ‘NASA’ in that para, RGO, and whether Americans lead in this field in this century remains to be seen. But whether you like it or not, it is the next logical step. =eyeroll=

        • Malmesbury

          Logical progression or not – it won’t happen in a world where space programs (like military programs) live in the “300% cost overruns aren’t so bad – give me more money. NOOOOOOW!!!!” zone.

          Which is why COTS and CCP are interesting – we are arguing about how *many* launch vehicles and space craft NASA needs. Think about that for a minute.

          • DCSCA

            Depends on what your government values, Mal. The PRC may see things differently. For all intents and purposes, space programs wer created to project geo-political and exonomic influence on Earth. Not for ‘exploration.’ Essentially, space programs ARE military programs. And the ones with flush funding around the world are ‘flying high.’ It is the government-financed civil space sector that struggles endlessly to survive- at least in the United States.

            • E. P. Grondine

              Hi DCSCA-

              “The PRC may see things differently.”

              They do.

              You have to remember that the fantasy of an Earth-like Mars is peculiarly American now, though it held earlier in the Soviet Union as well. But then way back then, they also hoped for an Earth-like Venus.

              That is why “manned Mars flight enthusiasts” in other countries now look to the US to fund their fantasies.

            • Malmesbury

              If you want to talk about the PRC – SpaceX bugs the hell out of them. Why? because they can’t work out how to get their costs that low – a big army is expensive, even if the soldiers pay rates are low.

              In my day job (advanced IT development) we beat the off shore guys hollow – 5 top notch guys beat a couple of floors full of the average.

              PRC civil space doesn’t actually have that much to spend on manned operations – hence their slow pace. The reason for this is that their leadership is very wary of falling in to what they see as the Western failing of enormous, useless programs that eat their budget.

              COTS and CCP – *if* they work – offer something radical. A game changer. Access to LEO cheap enough that it can become a *small* line item. If we throw money over the wall to the current Old Space programs they just swallow it and get worse. Why LEO – well, look at the Boeing proposal for Mars….

              The radical bit? A space program that is getting more efficient, not less.

              • E. P. Grondine

                China’s leadership spends on manned space fight the amount necessary to meet their national goals.

                SpaceX launch prices will be low, “if” they are fully successful. No doubt, China’s leadership did not expect such low cost competition.

                That is why I expect that in their next planning cycle they will focus on a re-usable flyback first stage, instead of on a heavy launcher.

              • Coastal Ron

                Malmesbury said:

                If you want to talk about the PRC – SpaceX bugs the hell out of them. Why? because they can’t work out how to get their costs that low – a big army is expensive, even if the soldiers pay rates are low.

                My background is manufacturing, and China stopped being the lowest cost manufacturer a long time ago. For instance, China now buys shoes from Vietnam. For touch labor, the estimates now are that China’s labor costs will soon reach $6 per hour, which even though it’s below the U.S. average, it’s high enough that companies are choosing to keep production here (especially when transportation costs are high) and even bring some back.

                But the big reason why China has said they can’t match SpaceX prices is because what SpaceX does is driven by innovation, not low labor costs. China can’t even make a decent aircraft engine.

                COTS and CCP – *if* they work – offer something radical.

                It’s already proven to work from a cost standpoint, since milestone-based payments means NASA (and the U.S. Taxpayer) aren’t stuck paying for someone else’s mistakes. And, of course, SpaceX has already proven the COTS development process can result in a service that performs as intended, and I think Orbital will reach that point too this year.

                It’s a good year for innovation in the private sector of U.S. aerospace, and I think this decade will be recognized as the most dynamic since Apollo…

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA
    January 18, 2013 at 1:24 am · Reply

    A sample return will not happen given the current cost or plans.” brewed RGO.

    Of course it will. Whether it is an American effort is uncertain.>

    Sure there is some other country likely to do it in this half of this century…what a crock. Dumbest comment you have ever made…until this I took you for a smart guy or gal. RGO

    • DCSCA

      “Sure there is some other country likely to do it in this half of this century…what a crock. Dumbest comment you have ever made…” croaked RGO.

      =yawn= You’re projecting again, Robert. Figured you for one of the more politically astute fellas on this forum. Perhaps not. What’s in play has little do w/spaceflight ops and everything to do w/the invasive philosophy of privatization of government services; Gingrich, Walker, et al. If this forum was about philatelics the privateers would be rooting for FedEx and UPS over the USPS. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Robert. Sorry to all for typos- Apple keyboard made in China, of course.

    • DCSCA

      Postscript. RGO. Recall just over a year ago the Russians launched a sample return probe to the Martian moon, Phobos- except the booster malfunctioned, the orbit decayed and it was lost. And Japan’s Stardust managed a sample return of comet material and thir Hayabusa returned some asteroid material for analysis. And, wayyyy back in the day, of course a few of the Soviet Lunas returned some lunar samples – the effort comes to mind as DCSCA personally saw a sample proudly on display in Moscow, circa, 1971. Why you think sample return missions to Mars- or other places for that metter- are the province of ‘NASA’ is peculiar.

      • E. P. Grondine

        Hi DCSCA –

        “Recall just over a year ago the Russians launched a sample return probe to the Martian moon, Phobos-”

        Phobos is not Mars. It is likely a captured fragment of comet or asteroid. Second, there is a question of what resources Phobos holds that might be useful in manned exploration of Mars.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA
    January 18, 2013 at 8:28 pm · Reply

    Postscript. RGO. Recall just over a year ago the Russians launched a sample return probe to the Martian moon, Phobos- except the booster malfunctioned, the orbit decayed and it was lost”

    well I dont see anything as the province of NASA ‘in particular” (or peculiar) at all. I just dont see any real value worth the cost or even the scientific “inquisitive” worth the cost except to a small band of people who simply have no clue of reality.

    I am sure almost anything NASA does can be done far more cheaply by the private sector or really any innovative folks in government; NASA is consumed with “stakeholders” and thats true all the way to the “eggheads” that do the planetary and other science “wish list”.

    the only difference between the folks in the Pentagon and their fantasy weapons and the folks at NASA with their fantasy program is that the folks in the Pentagon have a far larger audience with their “godless Arabs” message.

    I cannot for th elife of me figure out why anyone would want to spend 10-20-30 billion dollars to get 5 or less pounds of Mars rocks.

    But yes it could be done far cheaper…sadly doing it is not the objective. RGO

  • E. P. Grondine

    In my opinion, the most useful probe to Mars would be “Powell” go down or up Valles Marineris.

    There is absolutely no sense in planning a sample return before you know pretty well where the best samples are likely to be.

    By the way, pieces of Mars are recovered regularly both in the Sahara desert and in Antarctica at far lower costs.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Malmesbury
    January 19, 2013 at 3:38 pm · Reply

    PRC civil space doesn’t actually have that much to spend on manned operations – hence their slow pace. The reason for this is that their leadership is very wary of falling in to what they see as the Western failing of enormous, useless programs that eat their budget.>>

    That is one of the best (including my own) effort at summarizing the PRC efforts in both human and military weapons programs.

    It has been sometime but as some on this forum will attest during the 90′s I did a reasonable amount of flying in China for both military/their space program/and civilian efforts …it was mostly in terms of the uses of the Boeing 737 and this included microgravity profiles…but in my view the Chinese are playing on the US the same game it played on the Soviets in thee 80′s…ie with a solvent economy we ran the Soviets into economic ruin driving them forward on programs like SDI and other things which they had no realistic way to compete in…so it didnt matter that none of our programs worked either.

    If we were doing it, we had to try it. I sort of see the Chinese claiming a heavy lift booster as sort of a reverse “develop the shuttle” thing…

    In the end what the Chinese are looking for is enough military to be a solid regional power and to stop the US from projecting its power in what they consider their ” space”. I recall sometime ago (97 I think) having dinner with some fairly high ranking PRC folks who knew of my background in history and being asked “Why does the US resent other powers having their own Monroe Doctrine”

    The US is in the grips of a political movement (the GOP) which cannot for its own sake let go of the cold war. While the US squandered trillions in teh sands of Iraq and high desert of Afland, the Chinese were building modern factories and power grids.

    Nike RGO

    • Malmesbury

      The main thing with the PRC is to see it as an autocracy that consists of a number of intersecting committees.

      It’s not so much that they have a grand plan, but they are very wary of tacking on expensive liabilities. If the economy stops growing at a double digit rate… well, they will need that money to bribe the new middle classes.

      There are those there who want a Saturn 5 (even a Nova). It’s just that that they are in the same position of politicians in the US who want 30 carrier battle groups for the Navy (people like that actually exist).

      • Robert G. Oler

        Malmesbury
        January 20, 2013 at 9:36 am · Reply

        There are those there who want a Saturn 5 (even a Nova). It’s just that that they are in the same position of politicians in the US who want 30 carrier battle groups for the Navy (people like that actually exist).>>

        Yes precisely. 30 carrier battle group people were the ones making military suggestions to Willard Mitt Romney (as were the Nova/Saturn V redux people in space policy).

        and then there are the politics, as you alluded to. The PRC is riding a political tiger which is the emergence of a middle class that at some point will try and be equal to the middle classes around the world

        What the Chinese are in my view trying to do is “Apollo without the major expense” ie create an aura of nationalism and national pride without the massive expenditures that Apollo required. It is not all that hard” the metric of Apollo is long ago and it is not all that universally accepted anymore as a notion of national success except by a very very narrow slice.

        Robert G. Oler

        • E. P. Grondine

          Hi RGO –

          China has its own internal demand for civilian and defense satellites. They intend to satisfy those needs internally.

          They also hope to gain world level abilities to providing the civilian services to other countries. The launch costs of the Long March 5 are critical in their ability to provide satellite and launch turn-key packages.

  • DCSCA

    “My background is manufacturing, and China stopped being the lowest cost manufacturer a long time ago.” lathered Ron.

    Sureeeee they did. Yet they can still manufacture, can and ship shaving cream 10,000 miles to U.S. store shelves for retail at 99-cents/unit and still make a profit. But then, it is in a ‘red’ can. =eyeroll=

    • Malmesbury

      For lo-tech stuff (shaving cream etc) – the horde of cheap, badly paid workers can work. Except that increasingly those industries are moving *out* of China.

      For hi-tech you need high quality staff. For which you have to pay. Wage inflation in China is at epic levels.

      Missed the bit where Apple are setting up a factory in the US?

      • DCSCA

        “What the Chinese are in my view trying to do is “Apollo without the major expense” ie create an aura of nationalism and national pride without the massive expenditures that Apollo required…,” waxed RGO.

        Yet not long ago on this forum you were all but certain the PRC had no lunar aspirations a’tall. Of course, it’s not so much an ‘Apollo redux’ in work but affixing the PRC hallmark on this century as theirs. And, of course, half the people alive today were not around for Apollo and those who were are aging and passing on. It is difficult for the average anyone around the world to find Mars in the night sky; hard for the common anybody to glimpse the ISS at dusk as well. But everybody, everywhere can easily find and see Luna, day or night.

        And as the PRC knows, jusr as Americans did nearly half a century ago, it makes for a stellar projection of political power and economic strength on Earth, to demontrate to those alive worldwide that the moon passing over and above you, shining down month after month, has your people at work there in the here and now, representing your values and power, for years to come. The PRC knows this. And Luna awaits fresh flags and footprits, televised on large flat-screen HDTVs, made in China, of course.

        • Coastal Ron

          DCSCA prognosticated:

          And as the PRC knows…

          Yes, I’m sure they tell you, since you are such an acknowledged expert in… something China and space related. Whatever.

          …it makes for a stellar projection of political power and economic strength on Earth…

          You’re having delusions of grandeur (again).

          All China has said is that they are “studying” going to the Moon. When the U.S. and the Soviet Union were jockeying for the hearts of minds of the world in the 60′s, the fate of countries and economic spheres were at stake. That’s not the case today, and if anything China’s economic star is on the wane – they don’t even make their own shoes anymore, they are made in Vietnam.

          Going to the Moon won’t change that, and since many of China’s industries are government supported, spending prodigious amounts of capital on a Moon venture will suck that money out of the industries that need reinvestment to compete – it will make their competitive situation even worse.

          Besides, if the U.S. wants to beat “someone” back to the Moon, all they have to do it put the requirement out for bid, and some coalition of U.S. companies will be able to do it for a fraction of the price China or the U.S. Government could do it. And having a U.S. company do it, as opposed to a government, really shows off how capable our industry is compared to everyone else – that our companies can do what only other governments struggle to do. That is a powerful statement, not a Chinese redux of Apollo.

  • vulture4

    “I sort of see the Chinese claiming a heavy lift booster as sort of a reverse “develop the shuttle” thing…”

    The heavy ELV currently under development, the Long March 5, appears intended for both manned and unmanned payloads and seems considerably less expensive and more practical than the Shuttle.

    While I agree Chinese human spaceflight has proceeded at a deliberate pace, they have made remarkable progress in only four manned flights.

  • vulture4

    The pay of Chinese factory workers has increased by about a factor of 5 since 2000, so the US is more competitive, however Chinese products are also becoming more sophisticated and China is graduating more engineers and scientists than the US. China remains irritated at being snubbed for the “International” Space Staton program, given that they are one of only two countries in the world with the present ability for human orbital launch. I should also note that the distinctive Chinese vertical integration-oriented launch pad design, combined at Jiuquan with a well-laid-out rail-based MLP and VAB, appears more practical and efficient than the US equivalent.

    Although much of the Chinese investment in infrastructure seems well planned, including an impressive if not flawless high-speed rail network, the problems with air pollution due to coal and cars, and traffic jams around major cities, will be difficult to overcome and will get worse before they get better.

  • E. P. Grondine

    It is too bad that Jeff could not find some news from China to hang this discussion on.

    That said, back here in the real world, we could have had DIRECT and 2 manned launch systems with no disruption to our technology base for the money wasted on Ares 1.

    That money is gone, and that time is as well.

  • vulture4

    I agree the Ares I money is lost. The question now is whether we are doing the same thing with Orion and SLS.

    As to China, they have said many times that they are not in a race in space. Their preference would be to “join the club” of world leaders on the ISS. I think we should invite them.

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