NASA, Other

ASAP warns on commercial crew funding (again), gets philosophical about risk

Late last week, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) released its annual report on safety issues at NASA. As in recent years, one concern it highlighted in the report and accompanying cover letter is the level of funding for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). ASAP remains worried that shortfalls in funding appropriated for the program versus the administration’s request could jeopardize safety of the systems.

“While the budget request to appropriated funding ratio was slightly improved in 2013… the shortfall remains a top concern and the 2014 budget remains uncertain,” ASAP chairman Joseph Dyer wrote in the report’s cover letter, presumably composed before the 2014 omnibus spending bill was completed last Monday; that bill gave the program $696 million of the requested $821 million, a higher ratio than in past years. “This shortfall is seriously impacting acquisition strategy, and there is risk that force-fitting the CCP into a fixed-price contract with only the funds available has the potential to adversely impact safety.”

That shortfall, though, doesn’t mean ASAP is recommending NASA change course on commercial crew development. “The ASAP does not recommend suspending efforts to return the U.S. to a capability to launch humans into space, even in the face of budget or other real-world constraints that yield increased risk in pursuit of great reward,” Dyer writes. “However, we fundamentally believe that NASA should be plain-speaking and transparent with regard to risk acceptance and that risk and reward must be pursued in harmony and balance.”

In ASAP’s previous report, the advisory group expressed similar concerns about commercial crew funding, including a version of the same chart depicting the differences between requested and appropriated funding for the program. (The chart in the 2013 report did get some better formatting from the 2012 version, apparently lifted directly from a default Excel chart layout.) “In FY13, we predict this planning-funding disconnect will again drive a change to acquisition strategy, schedule, and/or safety risk,” Dyer said in the cover letter to the 2012 report. However, in 2013 NASA continued its strategy to shift to FAR-based contracts for the next phase, Commercial Crew Transportation Capability, or CCtCap; it’s also maintained a schedule that has vehicles entering service in 2017, provided the program is fully funded. (Whether the $696 million appropriated for 2014, including $171 million withheld until NASA completes a cost-benefit analysis of ISS commercial crew transportation, is sufficient to maintain that schedule is unclear.) ASAP might consider the third prediction—safety risk—fulfilled, though, based on concerns in the 2013 report that “NASA is being perceived as sending a message that cost outranks safety” in the CCtCap request for proposals.

Unlike some recent ASAP reports, though, the panel took some time in the 2013 report to take a broader look at the question of safety in human spaceflight. “In the human space flight endeavor, the questions remain: How much risk is too much? How do we know if we’ve considered all the risks? Is perfection the goal or is ‘safe enough’ the objective?” asks the report. “It is unfortunate that we must use terms like ‘safe enough’ rather than ‘perfect,’ but we must also realize that there is no such thing as guaranteed mission success.” The ASAP report doesn’t attempt to determine what exactly is “safe enough,” noting that it “is not a classical scientific decision; rather, it is a policy decision.”

Of course, no mode of transportation is perfectly safe: people die every year doing everything from flying airplanes to riding bicycles. In this week’s issue of The Space Review, I contrast the ASAP report with a recent book, Safe Is Not an Option, by Rand Simberg. In the book, he makes the argument that the threshold of what’s considered “safe enough” has been set too high, limiting progress in space exploration; he attributes that in large part to the perception that spaceflight is not considered that important, and thus not worth a high degree of risk. As the ASAP report states, risk acceptance in government-funded human spaceflight boils down to a “policy decision”: what is it that you’re trying to achieve by sending humans to space, and how much risk are you willing to accept to achieve that goal?

52 comments to ASAP warns on commercial crew funding (again), gets philosophical about risk

  • numbers_guy101

    Both the ASAP and Simberg are missing the real point about safety, as they both fail to note hidden biases and assumptions. So in a world where the development of complex space systems is hugely inefficient, you arrive at the Simberg conclusion, that we have to allow some slack in safety in order to move ahead. The hidden assumption, the unsaid bias? That re-inventing development, manufacturing and operations is just too hard. It won’t even be addressed. It’s just easier to accept risk, romanticizing the loss of life on the frontier. This is a failure to get at the core issue of how these systems should be developed, manufactured and operated. This is the real issue of safety – that politicizing such systems, and related process inefficiencies, as long as they reign, will never create safe systems. And without safe systems, people can dream forever about expanding that space frontier, or trying to say the bar for safety is too high. Dream on. The bar is not coming down.

    Similarly, the ASAP is caught up criticizing the commercial crew program (much more than Orion, covered much less in the same report), perhaps again due to hidden, unsaid assumptions. Do the board panels understand that costs can be emphasized and used to drive a program without these being more important than safety – if it’s done right? If incentives are aligned.

    Interestingly, Orion is covered by noting that the program keeps stonewalling the ASAP on it’s LOC (loss of crew) numbers (see page 17). The ASAP is again being coy – as they must surely know that the only reason this is happening is because the LOC numbers on an SLS/Orion crewed flight to anywhere may never be any better than Shuttle numbers. This is hardly progress and the program won’t let out such numbers due to the obvious failing in the program that such numbers would only confirm. Better to stonewall.

    The ASAP should just do some investigative work to get the reports they need by hook or by crook – even if not officially provided or sanctioned by the program. That would be ASAP earning their pay. Having done this sort of board work before, there is no better feeling than sitting across from someone asking for data, being told it is not available, or would be hard to do, and then tossing them their own people’s report on the same. C’mon ASAP. Get to work.

    • Coastal Ron

      numbers_guy101 said:

      So in a world where the development of complex space systems is hugely inefficient, you arrive at the Simberg conclusion, that we have to allow some slack in safety in order to move ahead.

      I have not read “Safe Is Not An Option”, but from his website Rand Simberg says:

      …our attitude toward safety has been fundamentally irrational, expensive and even dangerous, while generating minimal accomplishment for maximal cost.

      Based on that, and from what I’ve heard Rand talk about on blogs, I don’t think his main point is that “development of complex space systems is hugely inefficient”. In fact, I don’t see how you could describe the 9,300 lb SpaceX Dragon capsule as “complex” when you compare it to ISS that is 1,000 times more massive.

      Is there lots of development and testing? Sure. But you would have the same with a new generation Ford car, where they would spend lots of time and effort to validate the vehicle meets their goals.

      Keep in mind too that one of the advantages of the approach used by the Commercial Crew participants is that they are using existing launchers that fly many times per year. The launch industry already has an incentive to build and operate safe launch systems for non-human payloads, so the real focus only needs to be on how the spacecraft deals with problems with the launcher or on the spacecraft itself.

      This is a failure to get at the core issue of how these systems should be developed, manufactured and operated.

      I disagree. It is more about making sure the incentives for safe operation are there, but that operators won’t be punished for a lack of perfection. We lack perfection in everyday transportation systems, so we need to make sure that transportation in harsh environments is recognized as hazardous, and that those that partake understand that there will always be risk. The market does make it’s own adjustments to failure, so the government doesn’t have to have a heavy hand in this new transportation sector.

      …that the only reason this is happening is because the LOC numbers on an SLS/Orion crewed flight to anywhere may never be any better than Shuttle numbers.

      Or at least not as high as some politicians are thinking they will be. Then they will make excuses why it’s OK for NASA astronauts to accept more risk on the SLS/Orion compared to Commercial Crew systems.

      • numbers_guy101

        To clarify – the inefficiency I refer to is more specifically in programs like SLS or Orion, or more generally, in the business-as-usual type of crewed NASA programs where someone like Simberg (he is not alone on this) may be espousing that the safety bar is set too high. On the other hand, Dragon is proving to be a model of efficiency by comparison to Orion (as could also be said comparing the COTS program Falcon 9 to the EELV programs Atlas, by way of apples to apples as well). (I’m agreeing with you!)

        My point being—in an efficient development, manufacture and operation, there will always be more than enough resources to assure continued improvements in crew safety, with that bar always moving up. This is because safety is so linked to a quality product that arises from the quality, value and focus of efficient processes and people.

        • Coastal Ron

          numbers_guy101 said:

          To clarify – the inefficiency I refer to is more specifically in programs like SLS or Orion…

          Since the requirements for the SLS were drawn up by a few in Congress, and not technical experts, you can only draw conclusions about how inefficient politically derived transportations are.

          As to the Orion, that poor thing has such a tortured lineage that it is too useless to be used as an example of anything but bad requirements.

          …or more generally, in the business-as-usual type of crewed NASA programs where someone like Simberg (he is not alone on this) may be espousing that the safety bar is set too high.

          There are multiple problems with NASA, with the main one being too much political interference. But certainly a big one is the “Safety is our number one priority” mantra, which is what drives bad incentives. You’ll have to read Rand’s book to find out why.

          On the other hand, Dragon is proving to be a model of efficiency by comparison to Orion…

          Which I think is a good example of having good requirements up front that don’t keep changing, which government programs can do too if allowed and properly led. But SpaceX would be the first to say that they are not building a “perfect” transportation system, but they are certainly trying their best to make one that is survivable in as many situations as possible.

          My point being—in an efficient development, manufacture and operation, there will always be more than enough resources to assure continued improvements in crew safety, with that bar always moving up.

          You keep dragging manufacturing and operations into this, which you haven’t made your point on. So far most of what you have “clarified” has been related to the requirements, and I haven’t seen any evidence that supports your assertions about manufacturing or operations.

          • numbers_guy101

            My observation including manufacturing and operations efficiency, alongside development, and that safety improvements are inevitable (as in “consistent with”) an expanding, growing push out into space, comes from a few directions. One, by analogy to most all complex systems and technology as these mature. Two, by thinking through the relationships among numbers, for example how if we assume that human access to space may occur more often, inevitably current safety levels lead to a reductio-ad-absurdum of too soon, or too many and too frequent a loss of life. Third, that modern product development does integrate manufacturing and operations into it’s thinking as part and parcel, not as a separate phase or thing.

            For the sake of argument-would you offer an example of a mature, complex, system of systems where safety has declined even as said industry has grown?

            Note-the automotive example merely make my point, as the safety of cars nowadays is far and above prior generations and has always been increasing. One air bag in my car of 2000 became 6 in the one I have now. The next one will have 10 and some collision avoidance sensors to boot. But lets talk the plural of anecdote – data. The rate of automotive accidents in the US you’ll find has not tacked the actual rate of miles driven, cars on the road, population, traffic, or any other co-relation that would indicate declines in safety from year to year. Safety has gone up by the data as well. Not just anecdotes. (Most of the US automotive fatality rate perhaps being sociological, the book “Freakonomics” having a section on this).

            Again-would you offer an example of a mature, complex, system of systems where safety has been long term stagnant or even declined, even as said industry has grown, expanded, or increased accessibility and use involving people?

            • Coastal Ron

              numbers_guy101 said:

              Third, that modern product development does integrate manufacturing and operations into it’s thinking as part and parcel, not as a separate phase or thing.

              Having spent decades of my career in manufacturing operations, integrating product development with manufacturing and operations is nothing new.

              You originally said:

              The hidden assumption, the unsaid bias? That re-inventing development, manufacturing and operations is just too hard.

              You still haven’t provided any examples that explain why you think manufacturing and operations are a problem, nor have your provided any reasons why “re-inventing them” would be “just too hard”.

              For someone that purports to be a numbers guy, I don’t see any numbers that support your claims.

              • numbers_guy101

                Amazingly we are agreeing on most things, if you re-read my posts, carefully. Back in the day I used to try to simplify things as much as I could for management, peers and sponsors paying for my tasks. When things went astray I often figured my communications needed improvement. The charts could be more succinct, the story line’s flow could be formally structured, the grammar check could provide feedback on readability. In recent years, however, I’ve come to see that some people just can’t follow even well presented thoughts, alongside context. This continues to puzzle me. This may be due to lines of thoughts being even just slightly askew from their own. In any case, as I often tell others here, we can run through it again, but the problems not with the facts or their presentation.

              • Coastal Ron

                numbers_guy101 said:

                Amazingly we are agreeing on most things…

                Not that I can see.

                …if you re-read my posts, carefully.

                I did. You are still lacking in relevant information.

                In recent years, however, I’ve come to see that some people just can’t follow even well presented thoughts, alongside context. This continues to puzzle me.

                It’s hard to tell if you have “well presented thoughts” when you don’t provide enough context to understand your suppositions, nor any relevant facts.

                Look, you made a supposition specifically about the aerospace industry, and then you used the car industry as an example to back up your supposition. That doesn’t fly.

                Now maybe you did that because you have no idea about what the aerospace industry really does, or what manufacturing and operations do. If so, just say that.

                As a manufacturing operations professional, I have worked in many types of industries, both government contracting and commercial, and I understand how the aerospace industry works (car industry too). And I’ve spent my fair share of time creating and presenting presentations, so I understand the story telling process.

                But you were not giving a presentation here. You are on a forum where all you can use is words to express your thoughts. And those words were lacking.

              • numbers_guy101

                Well, time will tell who had a point. Who called it.

                There is safety and there is the reach of humans in space.
                This can go four ways. A matrix of the level of safety vs. the level of human activity in space.

                In a generation (I hope far, far less) we could know which of the 4 possibilities panned out, or more interestingly, why.

                1. Safety advances and human activity in space advances. (My position, call it the Inseparable Scenario, proves true. We look back on Earth from afar and mourn some losses, but in context, safety has progressed steadily from the today’s lo-nine’s to the hi-nine’s).

                2. Safety advances and human activity in space stagnates. (The Risk Aversion scenario about the bar for safety being too high proves true).

                3. Safety stagnates and human activity in space advances. (The Oregon Trail scenario proves true, but this does not hold us back. Simberg is applauded as a visionary. We look back from Europa, and many off-world places, and ponder the human loss to get there in all those systems that are still just lo-nine systems).

                4. Safety stagnates and human activity in space stagnates. (The Stagnation Scenario proves true. Failing to improve safety holds back the human activity in space).

                Someone should put this whole thread in the memory hole and dig it out again in 10 years.

                Time will tell.

            • Robert G Oler

              Numbers guy

              I think I will have to read this through again…I’ve been going for about a full day and had some red wine (Wingo will now call up the drunk claims he always makes) but…

              Just to make sure I am clear on this your comment

              “Again-would you offer an example of a mature, complex, system of systems where safety has been long term stagnant or even declined, even as said industry has grown, expanded, or increased accessibility and use involving people?”

              what you are suggesting is that a mature complex product cannot continue to expand and attract a growing market, if it is not safe.

              If that is what you are saying I believe I agree with you.

              Just to play the advocate…the question is at what price is that safety achieved? IE how many accidents, Loss of life etc.

              I have not read Simbergs book and probably will not until him and I do that man hug (sorry private joke) or until its at the Sarah Palin reduced price shelf..

              BUT I think that commercial lift and crew have the correct amount of oversight and regulation for the maturity of the product. It is far better then with the shuttle.

              Robert G. Oler

              • numbers_guy101

                “…what you are suggesting is that a mature complex product cannot continue to expand and attract a growing market, if it is not safe.”

                Yep-you got it.

              • Vladislaw

                In the product life cycle a product is, as a rule, at it’s peak market penetration once it is in the mature stage.

                “Challenges of the Maturity Stage

                ■Sales Volumes Peak: After the steady increase in sales during the Growth stage, the market starts to become saturated as there are fewer new customers. The majority of the consumers who are ever going to purchase the product have already done so.

                ■Decreasing Market Share: Another characteristic of the Maturity stage is the large volume of manufacturers who are all competing for a share of the market. With this stage of the product life cycle often seeing the highest levels of competition, it becomes increasingly challenging for companies to maintain their market share.

                ■Profits Start to Decrease: While this stage may be when the market as a whole makes the most profit, it is often the part of the product life cycle where a lot of manufacturers can start to see their profits decrease. Profits will have to be shared amongst all of the competitors in the market, and with sales likely to peak during this stage, any manufacturer that loses market share, and experiences a fall in sales, is likely to see a subsequent fall in profits. This decrease in profits could be compounded by the falling prices that are often seen when the sheer number of competitors forces some of them to try attracting more customers by competing on price.”

                http://productlifecyclestages.com/product-life-cycle-stages/maturity/

          • Neil Shipley

            CR. I tend to agree with Numbers. Given the example SpaceX’s F9, they were able to go relatively quickly from one version to a virtually new vehicle largely because they have developed efficient and effective design, manufacturing and operational systems and processes. Safety being inherent in the systems and processes, not something extra added or off to the side as a separate function.
            Same is occurring with Dragon. Once we have not just ISS but other destinations in leo such as Bigelow habitats, Dragon Crew will become not just one-off builds but more of in line with an ongoing production situation. Improvements occur as part of normal operations. Vehicles are built not one-offs like MPCV but in an operational production environment with standard processes et al.
            So I think he has a point IMHO, perhaps just not saying it so well.
            Cheers.

            • numbers_guy101

              One more try then-

              Again, many examples exist of complex technology and systems maturing, growing and along the way increasing safety for the user or operator. There is no reason to believe that an efficiently developed space system for crew would have to apply resources (labor, etc.) toward more performance, cost or other goals, or these same outcomes in manufacturing or ops, with any stagnation or decline in safety versus prior similar systems. On the other hand an inefficient process anywhere in the life cycle will drive to compromises on safety that are unnecessary. So I would think the root cause to tackle as regards improving crew safety is related to how agencies and industry go about creating their product, rather than to romanticize that our expansion into the space frontier must by necessity be some Oregon Trail like effort.

              Again, if anyone has any historical examples, analogies or such, that speak to technology and complex systems human safety stagnating or worsening, even as that system expanded or grew, I’m listening.

              • Coastal Ron

                numbers_guy101 said:

                Again, if anyone has any historical examples, analogies or such, that speak to technology and complex systems human safety stagnating or worsening, even as that system expanded or grew, I’m listening.

                Don’t you know of any?

                So everything you’ve been saying is theoretical…

              • numbers_guy101

                i.e., the lack of concrete, analogous examples of maturing, growing, complex technology/systems that became less safe or stagnated in safety measures as they expanded, disproves that safety will be left behind, stagnate or decline in consideration as we expand outwards into space.

                On the other hand, many non-theoretical, concrete examples of complex systems/technology that expanded and grew, while constantly improving the safety for the user or operator abound (automotive, aircraft, trains, construction, etc.) Safety improvements were not a choice, but part and parcel of other factors necessary to the advancement of a systems many other advances (in cost, time, design processes, performance, perceived value, etc.)

              • Coastal Ron

                numbers_guy101 said:

                i.e., the lack of concrete, analogous examples of maturing, growing, complex technology/systems that became less safe or stagnated in safety measures as they expanded…

                First of all, we don’t do research for you. You had suppositions, then you asked people for examples to prove your suppositions. If you’re too lazy to do your own research, then why should we help you? Our lack of interest in your crazy ideas is not proof that you are right.

                Secondly, the topic is not “automotive, aircraft, trains, construction, etc.”, it is the space industry. You made a specific allegation about the space industry, yet you have been unable to provide any examples of what the heck you are talking about.

                Sheesh!

              • numbers_guy101

                The specific topic is space systems, but the discussion here about safety advances can be bolstered one way or the other by simply considering any complex technology and systems of systems as analogous, to the degree they involve human safety. I have provided examples of complex systems and technology that involves human safety, such as rail, automotive, air, etc. that grew and expanded over time all the while increasing safety.

                My asking for examples to the contrary is not to ask anyone else to do research, but merely to say that barring any good examples, and none being provided in this entire thread, no evidence is being provided that our expansion into space and growth outwards from Earth necessitates a stagnation or decline or lowering of the bar in any measures of safety.

              • Coastal Ron

                numbers_guy101 said:

                The specific topic is space systems, but the discussion here about safety advances can be bolstered one way or the other by simply considering any complex technology and systems of systems as analogous, to the degree they involve human safety.

                No, that is not the discussion. You keep avoiding the topic.

                You originally said:

                The hidden assumption, the unsaid bias? That re-inventing development, manufacturing and operations is just too hard.

                Not only have you refused to provide any examples of why “it’s too hard”, but you have gone off on some other tangent.

                Just thought you should know why you’re not making any headway on this…

            • Robert G Oler

              Numbers guy is in my view correct.

              An excellent example and contrast of what he is speaking of is the Comet/B707 development.

              the problem is that a lot of people assume there is a lot of technology development to make commercial crew work. there are almost no “unknowns” in developing a space vehicle (or a rocket) other then how the technology picked will work, and its not hard to pick technology which is mature enough to have few issues.

              The Comet had issues because the designers picked technology (most the square windows) that had not been adequately modeled in terms of stresses. Boeing in particular understood from other airplanes “Oval” windows.

              I will be very surprised if in the next four to five years SpaceX loses a capsule (and crew) due to a technology issue…if they do it will be how the technology was assembed or used…the big changer in this is if they start reusing Dragons…and eventually the rocket then there might be lifetime issues. RGO

    • I would suggest that you read the book, rather than put words in my keyboard buffer.

    • Vladislaw

      I believe what Mr. Simberg is talking about is that in the next 4 hours more people will die in auto accidents then in the entire history of the American space program, including commercial. In the next 9 hours more people will die in auto accidents then in the entire PLANETARY history of space flight.

      Does our Nation GRIND to halt and stop after every single automobile accident? Our Nation’s space program does, THAT is insanity. Name a single planetary transportation system from horses to submarines where that whole system grinds to a halt after an accident?

      Senate investigations, House investigations, Executive branch investigations, NASA investigations, independant investigations….. SHEESH what a freakin’ NIGHTMARE!

      We will NEVER go ANYWHERE with a space transportation system that grinds to a halt after a freakin’ accident. Mr. Simberg is correct.

      • Andrew Swallow

        When the 747’s batteries caused a fire the fleet was grounded by the FAA. Although aircraft made other manufactures were allowed to continue flying.

        This suggests that more than one manufacture of spacecraft and launch vehicles is needed.

        • rickl

          This suggests that more than one manufacture of spacecraft and launch vehicles is needed.

          Yes, I think that’s the key right there. When an auto manufacturer has a recall, it doesn’t stop other vehicles from operating.

          In 1967, Apollo was America’s only manned spacecraft; likewise in 1986 and 2003 the Shuttle was the only game in town.

          Once we have a variety of launchers and spacecraft operating, a single accident in one type of vehicle won’t affect the others.

          • numbers_guy101

            “Once we have a variety of launchers and spacecraft operating, a single accident in one type of vehicle won’t affect the others.”

            I agree. Yet won’t the single accident be taken in context, because overall the safety of these variety of launchers by broader measures will all have demonstrably improved? That is to say, having a variety of launchers seems to imply a larger, higher volume market, otherwise why the many launchers in the business. This implies that the single accident now sits within that context. One loss over the total number of all launches and all that. The overall measures of safety would still have improved by that point, part and parcel with the higher volume, that enabled the higher variety or providers.

            No decline in safety or having to lower the bar there need occur. If it did, how would the variety of providers of access to space for humans have come about?

      • Explorer08

        @Vlladislaw: brilliantly stated. Thank you.

    • clicclic

      This ‘amateur’ (as someone called me on Parabolic Arc) gets it.

      Do the Navy make its own submarines? Does the FAA make their own airplanes? Should NOAA be building ships? Does the USGS build seismometers in volume? What about oil rigs? The writing is on the wall folks. This discussion is proof. I’m not even in the business and I’m seeing evidence that every rocket-faring nation on Earth knows what’s coming. I hope Orion happens and I hope SLS actually becomes something, but if it doesn’t it probably won’t matter much. Private space is finally here (finally).

      • amightywind

        You are comparing NASA to a military procurement. Good. You are thinking clearly, partially. The relevant question is does Northrup man the ships it sells to the navy with its own mercenaries, or let a 3rd party test them at sea? No. A contractor delivers validated hardware. The navy then takes possession and integrates into its operations. NASA should work the same way.

  • amightywind

    In the tight funding environment it is surprising that NASA is moving so slow to down select. It is quite simple. To make the 2017 launch date you can either increase funding or reduce scope. The funding is fixed. That leaves the luxury of funding 3 competitors.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      FWIW, I think that NASA’s strategy is to leave everything unchanged and pray to the Great Pumpkin that for some reason their budget gets increased so they can do things on the announced schedule. It was the guiding strategy during CxP and it remains so in the post-CxP era.

      • Fred Willett

        I love the Great Pumpkin.
        re NASA’s budget.
        The budget has been passed. NASA knows what it’s funding situation is now.
        Oh wait.
        The appropriation has still to be done.
        NASA, as yet, knows nothing about it’s actual funding.

    • Neil Shipley

      Suggest you read and try to understand AS’s comment above.

  • yg1968

    ASAP also said this about CCtCap: “Many within the community of interest worry that NASA is being perceived as sending a message that cost outranks safety in the CCP RFP. The RFP’s Relative Order of Importance of Evaluation Factors in Section M conveys: “Mission Suitability and Past Performance, when combined, are approximately equal to Price. The Price factor is more important than Mission Suitability, which is more important than Past Performance.”

    • yg1968

      I disagree with ASAP. Safety is required in order to be certified. So it doesn’t need to be a criteria for selection for CCtCap. All proposals that are selected must be safe or they will not get certified. Safety is often used as an excuse to favour traditional contractors (e.g., safety was used as an excuse to not cancel Ares I up until the Augustine commission). NASA got it right with CCtCap.

    • Coastal Ron

      If you understand the motivations of the service market, then it’s easy to provide the right incentives for safety without even stating what the safety levels are. In NASA crew transportation services contract, they just need two things:

      1. More than one provider, so that an under-performing provider knows they can be dropped at any time. Ideally this would be more than two providers, since once you drop one provider, you still want more than one to provide competition.

      2. The contract stipulation that the service provider is not paid in any way unless the crew is safely delivered to their ultimate destination. This may be a destination in LEO, or it may be the round-trip to Earth.

      Now I’m not saying we should remove all references to safety – the industry needs clarity on what the expectations are, and some laws regarding safety make sense.

      But just the two items above provide industry incentive regardless what legal expectations exist. And at this point in the CCiCap program, it’s why keeping three providers IS a matter of safety, as well as common sense.

      • Dave Huntsman

        You’re right, Coastal Ron. The statement of place of Safety in the Order of Things is much less important than where the incentives actually are. I’d go one step farther, however, than the two criteria you cite, of maintaining competition, as well as not paying when a crew mission is not safely successful: losing a crew should not only be a cause for not making a milestone or success payment – it should be clause for a clawback provision of some of the NASA monies already paid as well. I can’t think of any incentive provision better than that.

        • As long as it’s an affordable clawback. If it ends of up being a corporate death sentence (bankruptcy) for the provider it would be counterproductive in that there would be no learning or future improvement and a loss of competition.

          • Dave Huntsman

            I concur, the clawback can’t be deadly. Just the existence of any meaningful clawback would be enough of an incentive in itself, methinks.

          • Vladislaw

            There is bankruptcy and then there is bankruptcy. In some all that happens is the assets are sold off and a new start up is created utilizing those assets and the only thing lost is a bit of time in the grand scheme of production.

            If there is an accident and it forces the corporation into bankrptcy but the vehicle is not named the culprit of the accident, then another player will simply buy up the assets, for example falcon 9 . Dragon would get new names and flights would restart.

            If the Falcon9.Dragon is named as the culprit then it is a bad one.

            • Call Me Ishmael

              If there is an accident and it forces the corporation into bankrptcy but the vehicle is not named the culprit of the accident, then another player will simply buy up the assets, for example falcon 9 . Dragon would get new names and flights would restart.

              Why would they, given that it’s been shown the consequence of flying is bankruptcy, even if the accident wasn’t your fault. I wouldn’t be eager to provide the government with a service under those terms.

              • Vladislaw

                The first shuttle accident was the result of management not listening to the engineers that said you could not launch the system in cold weather. The shuttle was not the culprit it was management.

                If you could have bought that system after the accident for a song, you could have just NOT launched in cold weather and still used it.

                Negligence would have been cited, but with NASA and our space program, no one gets fired and charged, they get more funding instead.

            • Call Me Ishmael

              Try this again (HTML is _not_ my native language).

              If there is an accident and it forces the corporation into bankrptcy but the vehicle is not named the culprit of the accident, then another player will simply buy up the assets, for example falcon 9 . Dragon would get new names and flights would restart.

              Why would they, given that it’s been shown the consequence of flying is bankruptcy, even if the accident wasn’t your fault. I wouldn’t be eager to provide the government with a service under those terms.

              There. I hope the quoted text is properly identified now.

              • Vladislaw

                It is standard practice in business when an accident happens to determine what was at fault. People or hardware/machines.

                If people just used the machine wrong, the company producing the machine does not have to close shop and rebuild or redesign it.

                So if SpaceX had a bunch of trouble lights showing and should have shut down but didn’t and an accident occurs, it would be the people giving those orders at fault not the equipment.

        • Coastal Ron

          Dave Huntsman said:

          losing a crew should not only be a cause for not making a milestone or success payment – it should be clause for a clawback provision of some of the NASA monies already paid as well.

          I don’t know. If the service provider has been certified by NASA, and they still retain their certification, then I’d be concerned about this setting the precedent that travel to space should be risk-free.

          I know that’s the goal, and I have no doubt that every service provider is focused on not killing their customers, but there is still risk.

          There needs to be a balance centered around “acceptable risk”, and “reasonable precautions”. And that is the good part of what the CCDev and CCiCap programs are doing, which is lowering the initial and on-going risks. Not eliminating them though.

          • Dave Huntsman

            What got me thinking about the clawback provision was that it’s already in effect on ISS with one piece of hardware: the Sabatier reactor water generator. It was developed in an (almost-) COTS like manor, with NASA providing most – but not all – of the development money in phases; and the remainder of the development makeup – plus any profit – came from the operation (actually, the availability for operation, since operation itself is under NASA control) on board ISS. Plus, it had a clawback provision of some (or, all??) of the development funds NASA provided to Hamilton if it got up there and didn’t work at all.

            • Coastal Ron

              Dave Huntsman said:

              What got me thinking about the clawback provision was that it’s already in effect on ISS with one piece of hardware: the Sabatier reactor water generator.

              No doubt there are situations where that would be applicable. I don’t know the history of the hardware you mention, but with Commercial Crew NASA solicited participants and is certifying them after they pass a rigorous series of milestones.

              With Commercial Crew NASA is essentially saying that if the potential service providers successfully pass all the milestones and get certified, that they will be “as safe” as what NASA is comfortable with. That should provide some level of protection for the providers if they continue to operate at the level expected when they were certified.

              Should they be paid if the don’t deliver their passengers safely to their destination? No. But I don’t think they should be be forced to refund money they got from the CCDev or CCiCap programs either.

              My $0.02

            • Call Me Ishmael

              … it had a clawback provision of some (or, all??) of the development funds NASA provided to Hamilton if it got up there and didn’t work at all.

              Which makes it a one-time hurdle to get past. Your suggestion with respect to commercial crew is more akin to saying “If the thing ever malfunctions, you have to give some (all?) of our money back.” I agree with CR; it feels like a return to “nothing must ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever be allowed to go wrong, no matter what it costs or how much it reduces the flight rate”.

  • I’m struck at how strictly commercial operations have a natural system to assess risk versus cost. The customers in the market want both reduced cost and increased safety and they vote with their dollars as to where they draw that line. Companies have to guess as to where their customers will set that line. If they lean too far towards safety they they price themselves out of the market. If they lean too far towards price then they are either perceived as too dangerous or worse, when an accident happens, the market severely punishes them for their decision.

    When government does much or all of the funding this natural balance is lost. A failure involving the loss of human life is a political loss which is what politicians care about the most. Cost is more subtle. Any economic consequences are largely shifted to their successor or could be blamed on the opposing party since,
    “Which straw was it that broke the camel’s back”? – clearly it was your unnecessary straw not mine.

    • Coastal Ron

      DougSpace said:

      The customers in the market want both reduced cost and increased safety and they vote with their dollars as to where they draw that line. Companies have to guess as to where their customers will set that line.

      I think that’s an important point. The airline industry throughout the 20th century is a good example of that. Planes did crash, sometimes quite frequently, yet most of the time passengers kept flying on the airlines that had the crash. Some didn’t recover from their crashes though, like ValuJet, and that’s because the customers made their own evaluations about how egregious the factors were that led to the crashes.

      The important point here is that when customers have choice, they can affect safety levels.

      When government does much or all of the funding this natural balance is lost.

      Agreed. The SLS will be a government-only transportation system that will have no natural incentives to keep costs down and safety up. I’m not saying that the people designing, building and operating the SLS will intentionally do a bad job, just that a competitive free market does a much better job at keep costs in check and safety high. SLS supporters don’t understand that.

  • Congress has fewer qualms paying Roscosmos for launch services than they do American commercial developers.

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