Congress, Pentagon

Senate defense bill offers mixed messages on RD-180 replacement, EELV competition

The Senate Armed Services Committee completed work this week in closed sessions on its version of the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Bill. While the full text of the bill is not yet available, members of the committee have provided some news about its contents, including provisions regarding development of a new large rocket engine to replace the Russian-manufactured RD-180 and competition for military space launches.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) announced in a press release Thursday afternoon that the Senate’s NDAA authorizes funding for development of a new rocket engine. “Mr. Putin’s Russia is giving us some problems,” Nelson said in the statement. “So we put $100 million in the defense bill to develop a state-of-the-art rocket engine to make sure that we have assured access to space for our astronauts as well as our military space payloads.”

The release doesn’t offer details about that provision, beyond that it would call for that new engine to be developed in five years, similar to what’s in the House version of the NDAA. However, the Senate figure of $100 million is less than half of the $220 million authorized for that engine program in the House bill.

Another member of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), trumpeted in a press release three provisions regarding military space launch that he got included in the bill. One would require “a full and open competition on two satellites that they tried to sole-source,” without identifying the satellites. Another would prohibit future contracts for purchases of Russian rocket engines, while a third calls for an investigation into “undue reliance by the U.S. space industry on foreign suppliers and parts such as engines.”

What the Senate’s NDAA doesn’t do, though, is change the EELV “block buy” contract with United Launch Alliance. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told reporters Thursday that while he supported competition in military space launch, SpaceX was not yet ready to compete since they are stil undergoing certification. “Until they’re certified we want to be able to keep the program going and we want to get the benefit of that block-buy program, four billion bucks savings,” he said, as reported by Breaking Defense. “We try to balance.”

Across the country from Washington, though, SpaceX got some words of support from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “Launch costs are a huge part of my budget, so the way to drive down cost typically is through competition,” he said in response to a question about launch competition during a speech at the 30th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs on Thursday.

“I do want to give a shoutout to SpaceX,” he added, noting he visited their main factory in California and their launch site at Cape Canaveral recently. “I’ve been tremendously impressed with their ingenuity and drive and aggressiveness.”

85 comments to Senate defense bill offers mixed messages on RD-180 replacement, EELV competition

  • josh

    the writing is on the wall for ula. it’s just a matter of time now.

    jeff, you might want to cover musk’s recent twitter messages where he calls out former air force official roger correll for first awarding ula the block buy contract, then taking a job with aerojet/rocketdyne (ula engine supplier).

    • bright lights

      Yes he mentioned that Roger Correll first tried to get a job at SpaceX and got turned down before going to Aerojet/Rocketdyne.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      There are three issues with Roger Correll:

      1) Correll’s position prior to coming to the Pentagon was running roads and commodes contracts at Ogden AFB. Prior to that, his positions are all in logistics, sustainment, and related USAF support. Why was someone with no launch or milspace experience, or even much experience procuring highly technical, multi-billion dollar aerospace systems of any flavor, put in charge of a very complex, $17 billion launch services contract that lies on the critical path of almost every national security space asset? Is the USAF really this hard up for space engineering talent and procurement experience? Why was someone with a largely irrelevant resume like Correll’s put in charge of something so important?

      2) Correll retired from USAF in January 2014, only five months ago. There’s usually a mandatory year-long (12 months or even longer) “cooling-off period” for federal senior managers and procurement officials before they can take positions with the contractors (or even industry) that they oversaw in the government. Aerojet claims that Correll received all the proper clearances from the USAF, but how? How were exceptions from the standard revolving door prohibitions and schedule made for Correll?

      3) Did Correll take his position at Aerojet as a quid pro quo for taking certain actions on the ULA sole-source award? Even if no quid pro quo was agreed to, was Correll shopping for a position in industry at the same time that he was in charge of major decisions on the ULA sole-source contract? Correll’s inquiry at SpaceX indicates at least the latter, which would be a major breach of revolving-door ethics and should invalidate the sole-source award, even if Correll broke no laws.

      Musk is obviously focused on issue #3, but from an institutional point-of-view, the USAF also needs to fix #1 and #2.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      Required reading:

      “Under federal conflict of interest law, at 18 U.S.C. § 207, federal employees in the executive branch of government are restricted in performing certain post-employment ‘representational’ activities for private parties, including (1) a lifetime ban on ‘switching sides,’ that is, representing a private party on the same ‘particular matter’ involving identified parties on which the former executive branch employee had worked personally and substantially for the government; (2) a two-year ban on ‘switching sides’ on a somewhat broader range of matters which were under the employee’s official responsibility; (3) a one-year restriction on assisting others on certain trade or treaty negotiations; (4) a one-year “cooling off” period for certain “senior” officials barring representational communications to and attempts to influence persons in their former departments or agencies; (5) a new two-year ‘cooling off’ period for ‘very senior’ officials barring representational communications to and attempts to influence certain other high ranking officials in the entire executive branch of government; and (6) a one-year ban on certain former high-level officials performing certain representational or advisory activities for foreign governments or foreign political parties.”

      • Jim Nobles

        I really don’t know much about these processes but maybe ULA/USAF are going to claim that since Mr. Correll went to work for Aerojet/Rocketdyne, a vendor to ULA but a company once-removed from the actual block-buy bid, these rules don’t apply in his case. Would that be a valid legal argument?

        • Dark Blue Nine

          “Would that be a valid legal argument?”

          It would depend on how Correll’s position was classified. Quoting from this CRS report above, for some, there is a “a two-year ban on ‘switching sides’ on a somewhat broader range of matters which were under the employee’s official responsibility”. For others, there is “a one-year ‘cooling off’ period for certain ‘senior’ officials barring representational communications to and attempts to influence persons in their former departments or agencies.” Either of those — a “broader range of matters” or any “representational communications” with DOD — could apply to Correll depending on how his position was classified.

          But regardless, Correll is only five months (or less) into his Aerojet job. There’s always at least a one-year (or longer) prohibition on federal employee revolving doors that either has not been applied or has been circumvented in Correll’s case.

          • Jim Nobles

            “There’s always at least a one-year (or longer) prohibition on federal employee revolving doors that either has not been applied or has been circumvented in Correll’s case.”

            I guess that’s what’s bugging me about this. I can’t understand how Aerojet can say that everything was checked out and vetted before they hired him if it wasn’t. Their lawyers wouldn’t have let them break the law so obviously, would they? I can’t imagine the USAF being party to an obvious illegal activity. I wonder what is going on and how an argument can be made that everything is on the up-and-up? I’m guessing the lawyers think they can make that argument.

  • Andrew Swallow

    Musk should remember that the public frequently sides with David in Davis Vs. Goliath battles.
    In SpaceX Vs. ULA+DOD, SpaceX is David.
    In SpaceX Vs. Correll, Correll is David.

  • you might want to cover musk’s recent twitter messages where he calls out former air force

    There’s certainly plenty of sleaze to go around. Remember Musk collects $7500 for you and me for each electric car he sells to one of his Silicon Valley friends.

    • Explorer08

      Windy, what the hell are you talking about? Please explain.

      • Fred Willett

        He’s talking about the clean energy subsidy electric vehicles attract. As if taking the subsidy was the only reason Musk builds a $50,000+ car is to get a $7,500 subsidy.
        BTW he must have an awful lot of friends.

        • Vladislaw

          I wonder if Windy complained about the 28,000 dollar subsidy that President Bush gave the hummer?

          • Vladislaw

            Oops, I forgot, fossile fuels/transportation like oil/cars have been getting subsidies for over a century, any subsidy for any fossile fuel or nuclear power is good any subsidy to alternative energy/transportation evil.

  • Henry Vanderbilt

    I’d guess that the Senate DOD bill providing $100m rather than the House’s $220m is related to the Mitchell Report’s call for a joint USAF-NASA heavy-lifter engine development. Odds are the Senate Armed Services types want to see the other half of a nominally 5-year $1 billion project paid for out of NASA’s budget.

    Me, I recall how NASP led to USAF types for years recoiling in horror whenever a USAF-NASA joint program was proposed. How quickly they forget… Not that either of the propulsion bureaucracies that’d be involved is a prize these days. Both have records in recent decades of billions spent and nothing flown.

    • Meanwhile, companies like SpaceX (Raptor) and Blue Origin (BE-3) are developing engines with no government money.

      Why do Boeing, Lockheed Martin and ATK need a government subsidy?

      • Michael Kent

        Boeing and Lockheed Martin don’t do engines.
        Boeing did spend $1 billion of its own money developing the RS-68 engine, but that was when they owned Rocketdyne. They no longer do.

        • reader

          Nobody prevents from Boeing or LM from “doing engines”. Acquire some talent, set up shop, give them some R&D dollars and get going.

          • Michael Kent

            Why? So they can finally get that subsidy Stephen was complaining about?
            The point, which you seem to have missed, is that Boeing and Lockheed Martin don’t get a subsidy to build engines. They don’t build engines at all.

            • reader

              ULA is heavily subsidized, LM + Boeing get ULAs profits – if ULA needs an engine and were to get a subsidy for that, its LM and Boeing being indirectly subsidized. For the launch vehicles they are supposedly owning.

              There is no sane justification why LM should not cough up their own cash to fix the Atlas V engine issue – when all of their competition is doing so. Whether they fund it in house, pay Aerojet, or pay through ULA is beside the point, entirely.

              • Michael Kent

                1) ULA is not subsidized. Selling services to the government is a business, not a subsidy.
                2) There is a very sane justification for Lockheed not paying for a new engine for the Atlas V. The Atlas V is not their vehicle. Why would Lockheed pay for a new engine for someone else’s vehicle?

              • reader

                1) ULA is subsidized through the “capability contract” to the tune of $1B a year

                2) Atlas V is to be operated by ULA, thats ULA’s charter. LM owns the vehicle deign. ULA cannot go and redesign anything, replace engines or even design new vehicles without their charter being substantially modified

              • Michael Kent

                1) The ELC contract is not a subsidy. It is the Air Force buying services for itself.
                2) The only connection Lockheed has to the Atlas launch vehicle is the sales office, and that is only for non-gov’t customers. All design, manufacturing, & upgrade authority of the vehicle belongs to ULA. ULA now owns all of the Atlas & Centaur intellectual property, office space, & manufacturing facilities and employs all of the Atlas & Centaur engineers, machinists, & technicians. The same with Delta.

              • reader

                1) yes it is
                2) BS, read ULA Master Agreement, and look up “ELV Systems” and “Atlas Derivative”

                i think we are done here.

              • Ad Astra

                1) No it’s not. A contract to maintain infrastructure and capability is not a subsidy.

                a sum of money granted by the government or a public body to assist an industry or business so that the price of a commodity or service may remain low or competitive.

                2) ULA in fact has several programs underway that are upgrading booster and centaur avionics, the RL-10, and adding new upper stage thrusters. None of these are in violation of the charter.

                We are done if you’re going to make up your own definitions and facts.

              • James B Franks

                Ad Astra a contract to maintain infrastructure owned by the US Government would not be a subsidy. A payment to maintain infrastructure privately owned is a subsidy. For it is a sum of money granted to assist the industry in staying in operation.

              • Michael Kent

                Your mother giving you free sugar so your lemonade stand outcompetes all the other kids’ lemonade stands is a subsidy. Your mother giving you free sugar to make her a glass of lemonade is not.
                The Air Force is using the ELC contract to purchase capability for itself. It is a purchase contract, not a subsidy.

              • reader

                stupid word games. The lemonade mother has more than one kid and is telling others to go work in the plantation

                twist it how you want, its a subsidy

              • Ad Astra

                It’s not word games to accurately apply a definition. While Musk and SpaceX fanboys love to parrot the “billion dollar subsidy” propaganda, it only works on those that are ignorant of what a subsidy acyally is.

                Paying farmers to keep prices of corn syrup low is a subsidy. Paying a company to provide a service is not.

              • Dick Eagleson

                The problem is the “service” seems only vaguely defined and, in any event, has pretty clearly not been provided. That sure smells like subsidy to me.

  • Gerald R Everett

    Now that the executive and legislative branches have spoken lets see what the judicial branch has to say.

    • Low cost reusable launch capability is a national security asset.

      Every military advantage is short-lived, low cost launch will be acquired by other international entities soon enough, and Congress will have pizzed away a great advantage.

      Roger Correll has, it seems, played his part, having traded a national security advantage for a plush retirement job and a small personal vindictive self-satisfaction…ala Snowden?

  • Interested Observer

    Amazed at the audacity if some of the comments here and at the same time amused at those who think they know what is going on yet really don’t have a clue.

    • Berkeley Hilldown

      I think it’s interesting you don’t have a relevant comment at all, yet claim to be in the know. Feel free to demonstrate your relevance in the new paradigm of reusability and radically lowered cost of future space launch and habitation design inevitabilities. Because surely the RD-180, the AJ-26 and single stick single engine expendable launch vehicles are not ‘it’. (The clue).

    • Henry Vanderbilt

      If you do know what is going on, enlighten us, by all means…

    • Hiram

      Amazed at the audacity of one of the comments here and at the same time amused at he/she who thinks they know what is going on yet really doesn’t want to tell us about it.

      Maybe an Interested Observer, but hardly an interesting observer.

    • Dick Eagleson

      Put up or shut up, bitch.

  • Robert G. Oler

    The baseline reality in all this is that the defense establishment of The US has become financially non sustainable in its current form and that includes space operations. There has always been a battle of quantity V quality but in the last 30 years the gig has become lopsided to supposed “quality” which is what is driving cost upwards and upwards and upwards.

    This has also lead us into the notion of Soviet design bureaus for our “industrial complexes”

    the political situation in the Ukraine has given an effort to change this some life, and Musk undeniably has a product…the question is, and it still has to be answered is does Musk have a product that in all respects is “better, cheaper, faster”

    At some point IF Musk can sustain a launch campaign (he has the customers) for a “once a month” into orbit at the price point he claims…then the wheel will turn and things will change by their own momenteum ULA/SLS etc are doing nothing but getting more expensive adn that is a vector that is now so out of control it is becoming unsustainable.

    But so far Musk and his fine team have not been able to demonstrate what they need to do. Robert G. Oler

    • Henry Vanderbilt

      You’re onto something here. But the US DOD problem is not so much quantity versus quality as it is, delivered quality versus the costs of an ever-more bloated Quality Assurance bureaucracy.

      The DOD rocket QA bureaucracy has grown to where it consumes an inordinate slice of the available funding while grinding technical progress to a near-halt. As witness, $60 million cost for the paperwork exercise to “certify” Falcon 9, sometime next year, maybe.

      Pretty much the same thing has happened in parts of NASA – in the launch and propulsion development bureaucracy in particular.

      • Robert G. Oler

        Henry I think that it is an all encompassing issue.

        it is the notion of quality vrs quantity and how to achieve quality in whatever quantity they acquire.

        Clearly 62 million dollars for a paperwork exercise on the rocket is absurd because in the end of the “deal” they will NOT UNCOVER ANYTHING THAT justifies that expense. It will “just be done”. But it is no different then the endless number of safety reviews that NASA HSF has to prove “it is safe’ when in reality they are nothing more then a paperwork exercise.

        But this is in my view a by product of the notion that “a few good super wonderful things” beat a bunch of simpler ones. I dont know how many times I have read in speeches and writings “our weapons are so far advanced over anything the other folks have” that its OK that we can only produce X of them a month (and thats single digits) or we will never have more then 1/X of the number of them of the weapon system they replace…

        There is a GAO study that the SLS will cost 22 billion to its first launch…and I bet that is little hardware cost but mostly “people, studies, and exercises” and in the end we would have the ability to someday launch 1 every two years.

        We never would have won WW2 this way or even held our own in the Vietnamese war. RGO

  • RocketEconomist327

    Anyone who professes to know whats going to happen is simply lying. I know what’s out there but there is no way to say what will happen. People who speak of ULA’s demise are sadly mistaken.

    Yes its a bombshell but no one knows who is going to get hit.

    I do not think anyone has seen something like this wrt our nations space program – civilian and military.

    Henry knows what he is talking about.

    • Robert G. Oler

      It is as they say all speculation; it is impossible to know where the eddys and currents of events are taking things; but the main point is that now the issue is bigger then “rocket politics” it has moved into the arena of global politics and that gets it caught up in the issues of domestic general politics.

      what has guided “space politics” so far in this country, since the Kennedy days, is theinertia of localized politics…for the first time since then that is changing. RGO

    • Dick Eagleson

      As one of those people who has spoken a lot about ULA’s demise, I’d like to know on what basis you see any significant future for this misbegotten entity. Supposing that it has one strikes me as the thing “sadly mistaken” here.

      ULA was created in the first place as a reaction to a cratered civilian launch market in the wake of the Dot-Com Bust and the collapse of Iridium and Teledesic. As such, it was never going to have better than a limited metastable existence. Part of that metastability was reliance on artificially cheap Russian engines for one of the two vehicles roped together in this shotgun marriage. Naturally, that transient advantage drove the preponderance of production within ULA in an Atlas direction. That was never going to last because Russia was not going to stay permanently as economically flattened as it was in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. ULA has now run, full-speed, up against the limits of its Russian supply/choke chain and can’t seem to manage much more than a dog would in similar circumstances – pain, confusion and a lot of whimpering.

      ULA is now in the position of a man who has had one of his legs blown off. This organism can no longer walk. While LockMart still stares, in shock, at its former appendage now lying mangled on the ground, Boeing may bestir itself sufficiently to get a tourniquet on the stump and control the bleeding by taking Delta IV back and dissolving ULA. There will be some lag time while the somnolent management cadres involved convince themselves of the new reality – Russia has gone back to its long tradition of imperialist adventures and isn’t even pretending to be our friend anymore – but I expect the dissolution of ULA to be short and sharp when it finally occurs. That’ll be when Boeing management finally realizes that Atlas V is dead, dead, dead.

      • reader

        I am sure there will be absolutely no dissolution of ULA – governments dont break monopolies these days. There will be endless peg legs and prop ups instead to try and keep the man walking and tries to make it jump.

      • Fred Willett

        Lovely word pictures, but the reality is somewhat more mundane.
        ULA still has 16 RD-180s. enough to last 2 years so they say. So they are not going anywhere for at least 2 years. As well they can stretch this using Deltas. After all Delta IV’s are not going away. So if (big if) they get to keep their block buy they can still meet all their launch commitments through 2020 with what they’ve got. After all they’ve got several years to ramp up Delta production before they run out of Atlas Vs.
        This also gives them several years to sort out what to do about the RD-180. Either manufacture RD -180s locally or replace it with something else. They might even choose – given F9R – to build a new rocket altogether.
        You can bet that right now they are exploring all their options.

        • Dick Eagleson

          ULA has 15 RD-180’s. They just used one more up launching NROL-33.

          While ULA might, in theory, have barely enough engines to meet their block buy obligations, they’d have to ramp up Delta IV production significantly to make up the balance. The Mitchell Report is dubious about their capability to do this.

          Even if this were possible, the client community for DoD/USAF/NRO launches would be clinically deranged to let them do it. At the end of the block buy launches, ULA would have no more Atlas V’s and no real replacement. Letting ULA keep SpaceX entirely out of the loop while they work off their block buy contract would delay getting SpaceX accustomed to doing national security launch ops until it was either SpaceX or punt as ULA has no second act with which to follow on from their block buy. The spooks and brass hats may be inbred and clannish, but they’re not bonkers. They have to look well beyond the end of ULA’s sketchy block buy deal and see to it the U.S. retains domestic ability to field milsats in the types and quantities required. When the RD-180’s run out, ULA runs straight off a cliff and will no longer be a factor in doing this. SpaceX will. Therefore the block buy will be quietly buried and SpaceX allowed in so they can get accustomed early to the temperature of the water in that particular pool, so to speak. When ULA craters, SpaceX will have established credibility by already having done many of the erstwhile block buy launch ops.

          I don’t think ULA really has any options to consider. Their main course of action will be to reflexively call upon their pet Congresspeople to save them from the marauding barbarian Musk. I don’t see this as being politically possible. As to scratch-building a new engine or whole booster – especially something at least as reusable at the F9R should be shortly – good luck with that. ULA lacks the vertical integration to do so Musk-style. Doing it old school, the only way ULA knows how, via legions of subcontractors and DoD paper-pushers, will take way more time than they’ve got. They’re toast.

          • Fred Willett

            See this link
            ULA is already ramping up Delta IV production
            However much of what you say is correct. ULA does have problems and SpaceX ought to be allowed to compete. Not only is this a good idea but it would actually help ULA by allowing them to stretch out the RD-180s while they sort out their supply problems.
            Nor would I write off ULA just yet. Some companies die when facing competition. Some don’t.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi Dick –

        You’ve made a mistake in historical fact.

        ULA was created to meet DoD needs following the penalty ruling in the bidding price knowledge suit.

        Now as to how that case came about and the penalty determined…

        • Coastal Ron

          E.P. Grondine said:

          ULA was created to meet DoD needs following the penalty ruling in the bidding price knowledge suit.

          No, Boeing and Lockheed Martin decided to merge because there wasn’t as much profit operating independently as the had hoped, and they figured creating a monopoly would improve that situation.

  • MrEarl

    Do we really have to re-invent the wheel to get a hydrocarbon engine to replace the RD-180 and NK-33?

    Both of these engines are from the ’60’s and ’70’s era, what does Pratt and Whitney/Rocketdyne have on the shelf that could replace them?
    What about the H-1/RS-27? A modified version could replace the N-33. SpaceX’s Raptor could replace the RD-180. What about modifying the LR-87? Don’t forget we have the most powerful single combustion chamber LOX/RP-1 engine ever flown, the F-1A and we’ve already started development of the F-1B.

    That $100 million to $220 million would be better spent speeding development/revival of the engines I just mentioned or ones like them, than starting a new “state of the art”, program that will never have anything ready before the current supplies of RD-180’s and N-33’s run out.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      Both of these engines are from the ’60′s and ’70′s era, what does Pratt and Whitney/Rocketdyne have on the shelf that could replace them?

      Frankly? Nothing. All they have is RS-68, J-2X and a whole lot of projects that were cancelled approximately 20 years ago.

  • reader

    >>Both of these engines are from the ’60′s and ’70′s era,

    Glushko probably designed RD-180 on a fishing trip, and it has taken more than a decade for domestic “industry” ( or the remnants of it ) to reverse engineer it.

  • Next station is at L1, COTS type program night make that possible on fewer dollars than thought. Assuming salvage out of ISS.

    • Fred Willett

      3xBA330s @ $200M ea = $600M
      3xFH @ $125M ea = $375M
      Total = <$1B and you have a brand new space station the size of ISS capable of supporting up to 18 people.

      • Hiram

        “Total = <$1B and you have a brand new space station the size of ISS capable of supporting up to 18 people."

        Let's not forget that what that buys you is an underpowered empty can (er, bag), allowing unlimited somersaults and bad hair. It would be interesting to cost out a station that would actually do something. Not too surprising that the main marketing thrust of a station developed by a hotel magnate is living space. I think the BA330 is marvelous, but let's also be realistic.

        • Ben Russell-Gough

          Agreed; you’re looking at dozens of cargo and crew flights to outfit the modules. Not entirely a bad thing; it would give SLS Block-1A something to do with its time (lots of launches may bring down costs a bit too) and developing an L1 cargo ‘railroad’ COTS-style might spur development of cheap cis-Lunar crew access in much the same way the original COTS led to commercial crew.

          Nonetheless, as Hiram says, unless Bigelow can come up with some short-cuts such as opening ‘flower petals’ attached to the spine that carry the equipment, the relatively low mass of BA-330 isn’t a panacea by any definition.

      • Andrew Swallow

        They may be the official bid but I do not believe the prices. I strongly suspect that Bigelow has underestimated the costs and timescales of developing a man rated spacestation.

        I stick by my 6-7 years and $2-$3 billion estimate.

        Once the development costs have been covered I suspect that that a big bulk buy should be available on the second and third module.

        • Robert G. Oler

          Andrew I think it is between 1 and 2 billion and I doubt that the vehicles can fly without the US government doing a Syncom where it finances the first few modules. What the lesson is from Musk (assuming he cures a few issues) is that it takes longer and cost more then private enterprise imagines, but the overall cost are far lower then when government does the same thing in a traditional space industrial complex model…ie instead of costing 22 billion for SLS it will probably be about 2 billion before Falcon9 the new starts running like they want it to.

          I bet Bigelow is about the same (although I do not consider your spread unreasonable) RGO

          • E.P. Grondine

            Hi RGO –

            A technical point.

            Do you remember the results of the VTOL jets of the 1950’s?

            • Robert G. Oler

              Yes, they were all dead ends…it was “later” that the Harrier came along and now the V22 and their value is still limited…more expense then capability RGO

    • Robert G. Oler

      why? Why L1? RGO

      • Hiram

        “why? Why L1?”

        Here’s my answer to that. We need an on-orbit habitat in deep space that is within at least some measure of logistical convenience to Earth, both for materiel management and risk mitigation. A lunar Lagrange point orbit is largely unshadowed and, especially for L1, has continual LOS contact with Earth. Such a location is actually very useful for lunar surface command and control (moreso than a LLO), and perhaps could be used for lunar operations depoting, as it is an orbit that is equally reachable and accessible from all places on the lunar surface. It was clear from the NASA DPT work a dozen years ago that such a location had great value as an assembly location for Mars-bound ships, and was energetically convenient to Earth-Sun Lagrange points as well. An ARM-type SDRO is an orbit that has some potential for all that as well, but launch and return windows are comparatively brief. As to L1 versus L2, I don’t care. L2 has the marketing advantage that it is farther than we’ve ever gone (making it a better stunt), but is equally accessible compared to L1, and the farside access it permits is mainly a rather small science niche with respect to HSF. It would be pretty stupid to plan to do ISRU on the farside.

        The idea of using modules reserviced from ISS to do a Lagrange point hab has been well studied for NASA by Boeing, working with RSC Energia.

        • Robert G. Oler

          Hiram none of those strike me as useful for the same or greater level of commitment in comparison to ISS that such a station would take. we can put a relay satellite there and do the controlling thing RGO

        • Andrew Swallow

          I strongly suspect the first one will be at LEO. Later NASA may pay for a second or third spacestation and a Lagrange Point.

          A BA-330 is basically a habitation module. However the general public will be happy to call it a spacestation.

          Modules to perform experiments in or hold extra docking ports that permit changing of spacecraft can be added later. Just ensure the habitat module has NASA Docking System ports at both ends.

        • Hiram

          “none of those strike me as useful for the same or greater level of commitment in comparison to ISS that such a station would take. we can put a relay satellite there and do the controlling thing”

          I’m not saying that ISS isn’t useful. It is. We were talking about the “next” station, which doesn’t have to be after the demise of ISS. ISS will be kept alive as long as there is perceived national value in it. When there isn’t, there won’t be any big incentive to make another one.

          Given the huge and often arguable investment in ISS, however, I’d have to agree that calling any space hab after ISS a “space station” is political suicide. DPT called their L1 hab a “Gateway”. That works for me.

          As to relay sats, you don’t understand. The value of humans near the Moon is that they can control lunar surface assets in near real-time. A relay sat may help control assets on the far side from the Earth, but you’re still looking at a time delay an order of magnitude or more larger than a human reaction time. Nowhere near real-time. Know how long it takes to tie your shoe with 3 seconds time delay? Many minutes.

          As to the “same or greater level of commitment”, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. If you are committed to going outside of LEO, ISS is good only up to a point.

          • Robert G. Oler


            My reasoning is that it is far far far to early to start talking about another big build government program/project in space.

            Right now we have ISS and it is far from being a success, in fact it is reasonably a flop. No reason or reasons that come anywhere near to giving value to the cost of the operation of the effort have been found. Right now the only thing holding it together is the inertia of human spaceflight spending AND a need to justify the space industrial complexes of a lot of nations.

            WE HAVE to make something successful of ISS or there wont be anything else. the American people wont foot the bill again AND nothing else can be successful because all it will do is perpetuate the methods of operation on this station.

            Sorry I dont see a 3 second time delay as an issue…really people are killed with similar delays. RGO

            • Hiram

              “My reasoning is that it is far far far to early to start talking about another big build government program/project in space.”

              Big build project? Hmmm. The Lagrange point hab concepts that have been evaluated are of order 30 mT. Yes, it is far far far too early to be talking about a 400 mT ISS at L1 or L2.

              “Right now we have ISS and it is far from being a success, in fact it is reasonably a flop.”

              I would have to agree, on the basis of value. Though some pretty dumb fiscal decisions were made in building it. Let’s hope we’ve learned some lessons, as we move ahead.

              “WE HAVE to make something successful of ISS or there wont be anything else.”

              Yes, but good luck with that. Now, don’t worry, NASA will spin ISS as being “successful”, and the public will buy it. But you bet the American won’t foot the bill for another $150B habitat. As I say, the next habitat we build won’t be called a space station, whether it is international or not. That’s political suicide.

              “I dont see a 3 second time delay as an issue …”

              I don’t see much of what ISS is now doing as an “issue” either, in the ame way. A three second time delay corresponds to a x10 multiplier on task time for complex perception and dexterity. That makes a big difference if you’re trying to cram accomplishment into a 2 week lunar day. Doing such telerobotics on the Moon from orbit above is a powerful exercise for similar efforts on Mars. A much more powerful exercise than current ISS-to-ground efforts.

              “really people are killed with similar delays”

              Um, so it’s a really good reason to try to avoid them, no?

              • Robert G. Oler


                First off an apology “People are killed with similar delays” meaning that drones are routinely flown with delays approaching that number

                second…I dont see an Libration point station fixing that. There will be “one” person who is doing the controlling of one device and that person will need to have a lot of input from the folks on the ground and worse there is nothing done on the moon right now that needs that time compression.

                I dont see the need for any big government project/program in space…its time in my view to go another direction RGO

              • Hiram

                “drones are routinely flown with delays approaching that number”

                In fact, the time delay on military drones is closer to a second or two. You talk to these guys. They would LOVE for it to be shorter. Their productivity and decision making would be better. But the activity of flying and even targeting is actually not that hard with significant time delay. Remember, they aren’t looking through a gunsight that is shaking and wobbling. They’re just defining a target in a field of view for the system to lock onto. As in “hit that”.

                “There will be “one” person who is doing the controlling of one device and that person will need to have a lot of input from the folks on the ground”

                Just like the astronauts that many would hope we’d send there, right? Seriously, if you’re going to send an astronaut to the surface of the Moon to do something, a capable telerobot, controlled from nearby, is going to offer the same advantages and handicaps. But you can have those telerobots at a wide range of sites, and 24/7 operation.

                The argument is that capable telerobots can’t offer the perception, dexterity, and mobility of a suited human. That’s changing quickly.

                “I dont see the need for any big government project/program in space…its time in my view to go another direction”

                That’s a very different flavor of objection. I actually think it makes a lot of sense. But to the extent that Congress sees that NASA needs to be leading a big government project/program in space, the question becomes, what should that project/program be to offer maximal value.

  • developing a man rated spacestation.

    What is a “man rated spacestation”?

    • Andrew Swallow

      The two spacestations Bigelow currently has in orbit do not have any life support. So a man rated spacestation will comply with the rules for people. It will also have facilities for cooking, cleaning, drinking water, sleeping, oxygen, crew communications and toilet.

      • Hiram

        “The two spacestations Bigelow currently has in orbit do not have any life support.”

        As I said, they’re just big (and quite underpowered) inflated bags. With all due respect for Bigelows excellent and creative technology, let’s not even call them “spacestations”. Maybe “proto-spacestations”?

        But I agree that, unless we’re talking about a hotel, the next spacestation will probably be at a EM Lagrange point, perhaps using legacy ISS modules, or at least new modules that get proven out temporarily attached to ISS.

      • It will need those things, but they don’t make it “man rated.” They make it habitable. I hope that Bigelow doesn’t waste time and money trying to “man rate” his facilities.

        • Hiram

          “I hope that Bigelow doesn’t waste time and money trying to “man rate” his facilities.”

          Of course, that would mean that he doesn’t want to market them to NASA. That’s one marketing strategy, but not a very smart one.

          The answer isn’t getting developers to avoid man rating, but rather some pressure to redefine it.

    • reader

      It’s the one where you can leave the toilet seat up

    • Rand Simberg wrote:

      What is a “man rated spacestation”?

      One rated by a man, obviously. :-)

  • Neil

    Do any of you guys who are ‘supposing’ and ‘saying’ actually work for Bigelow? Just wondering since all I’m seeing is a bunch of speculation based on very little.

  • vulture4

    Bigelow is working with Orbitek on life support/environmental systems, but their primary need is customers who can get into orbit. Their best bet right now is to market the ISS extension module to NASA.

    My experience with NASA and DOD oversight is similar to Henry and RGO; it is just paperwork and adds cost but not value. NASA at least has a better way; the Space Act Agreement. If a new engine is to be developed a NASA SAA would be the best approach, although it seems unlikely the DOD would concede any control.

    It continues to make no sense for ULA to operate both the Delta and Atlas.

    • Neil

      Bigelow is waiting for an assured, non-government ride to leo. I’d reckon that once that’s in the bag, you’ll see them ramp up their activities significantly and roll out the tech. that they’ve been working on in the meantime.
      The NASA contract is useful in that they have to meet the ISS human ratings just as the cargo vehicles have to do. Apart from that, there’s not too much more that they aren’t learning from Genesis I and II.

  • Say goodbye to senile Ralph Hall …

    We won’t have to listen to his ramblings on the House Science Committee any more. Unfortunately, lots more idiots left on that panel.

  • vulture4

    Generally these committee hearings contain a lot of accusations that NASA climate research is causing global warming.

    • Hiram

      The numbers from NASA support Gass’ comments here. Last December, NASA awarded ULA $160M for the launch of InSight on an Atlas V 401. A slightly enhanced version of the same launcher was recently bought by NASA for OSIRIS-REx for about $180M. Now, ULA doesn’t like to tell anyone what the USAF pays, but we know what NASA pays.

      Of course, a F9 lifts about 40% more than a 401, and the cost is vastly lower. So while Gass may be correct that the costs for ULA launchers have been overstated, even when they aren’t overstated, the comparison strongly favors SpaceX.

      • Neil

        I believe NASA’s mission assurance costs are substantially less than DoD. As well, we don’t know how much of the billion dollar capability payment is assigned to underwrite each launch and whether or not they are distributed evenly or otherwise.
        That makes any figure from ULA suspect IMO.

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