NASA

Orion manager warns he’s “challenged” to make December 2017 launch

In two separate public appearances last week, the manager of NASA’s Orion spacecraft warned that he is “challenged” to keep Orion on track for the first Space Launch System (SLS) mission in late 2017.

Mark Geyer spoke at the Mars Society’s annual conference in Houston on Saturday, one day after SLS program manager Todd May said his program had several months of schedule slack on its critical path to Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) inaugural launch. Asked about how much slack he had on Orion towards EM-1, Geyer was more cautionary. “We’re going to be challenged to make December ’17,” he said. “By the end of this fall, we’ll be able to define that” date after working through preliminary design reviews for the program.

Geyer said the challenges were rooted in two key issues. One was the decision to incorporate a flight test, designated EFT-1, slated for launch on a Delta IV Heavy this December without adding funding to the overall program. “That did affect my ability to start EM-1 as early as I wanted to,” he said. The other was bringing the European Space Agency into the program as the supplier of the Orion service module. “They’re doing a terrific job, but they had some challenges,” he said.

“We felt it was more important to build a flight unit and fly it because we’re going to learn so much about what the risks are,” he added about the decision to do the EFT-1 mission. “To us, it was worth the potential impact on EM-1.”

Earlier last week, Geyer offered similar warnings about the Orion schedule at the AIAA Space 2014 conference in San Diego. “We’re struggling to make December 2017, and I have a lot of challenges to make that date,” Geyer told Space News. He cited potential schedule issues with ESA’s service module as a key factor in that overall schedule challenge.

Other reports have suggested a delay—perhaps as much as nine months—is already in the works for EM-1. An article last month by NASASpaceFlight.com, citing an internal NASA document, claimed the schedule for EM-1 had slipped to September 2018. However, the same document also had EM-2 moved up from 2021 to the very end of 2020: December 31.

133 comments to Orion manager warns he’s “challenged” to make December 2017 launch

  • Vladislaw

    There has already been NASA publications that have a 2018 launch date listed. Stop with the games.

  • Nothing wrong with a challenging job. If your team is working one shift, schedule two, if two the go around the clock. This is no time to back off. This is America’s next spaceraft we are talking about.

    • Hiram

      “If your team is working one shift, schedule two, if two the go around the clock. This is no time to back off.”

      And, to the taxpayers, get out your wallets!! This is no time to keep your money!!

      Over cost, behind schedule, underperforming … this is America’s next spacecraft we’re talking about.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      This is America’s next spaceraft we are talking about.

      No, that would be the SpaceX Dragon V2, which is forecasted to flying it’s first flight with crew in 2015. That is a full 5-6 years before the Orion is scheduled to fly with crew.

      And with an Orion unmanned flight date of 2018 being forecasted, after the SpaceX Dragon “America’s Next Spacecraft” would be the Boeing CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, depending on funding.

      The Orion is “America’s Furthest Behind Spacecraft”… ;-)

  • Makmesbury

    The Orion for EM-2 will be different – structure, heat shield etc from EM-1 and EFT-1

    It has to be – fully loaded with astronauts, life support systems etc it is 20+% overweight for the parachutes. This will all be fixed after EM-1, we are told.

    So, astronauts will be sent up on the first flight of a very different configuration, full of new systems.

    This is not a good idea. There is already a move within NASA to delay EM-1 until everything is fixed – this may be what is surfacing here.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      I’ve long argued for an EFT-2 proving flight of the actual all-up Orion in LEO and maybe even an EFT-3 if NASA assesses the risks to require EFT-2 to be uncrewed. The problem? It will cost extra $$$ and not just for the extra CMs and ESMs. As there are insufficient SSMEs and RSRM-Vs for two extra SLS units for the test phase, some alternate launch vehicle will be required. This will probably Delta-IVH (expensive) or Atlas-VH (politically iffy with all the furore around RD-180 at the moment).

  • Makmesbury

    “… this is America’s next spacecraft we’re talking about.”

    One (or more) of the Comercial Crew vehicles will fly manned before EM-1.

    • Where will they fly to? Putin’s space station? Commercial Crew’s only mission is evaporating before our eyes. What’s the follow on? There is none. Let’s just hope the mission comes to an orderly end and Putin doesn’t strand our astronauts.

      • Malmesbury

        “Where will they fly to?”

        To ISS

        “Putin’s space station?”

        Russia has a minority stake in ISS. The lions share of it is a US station.

        • Hmm. Russian cosmonauts occupy 3 of the 6 occupant positions. They are the only country left that can shuttle astronauts from the ground. They are launching new modules to attach to their existing ones. It flies in a useless orbit convenient only for them. Are you still in denial?

      • Jim Nobles

        amightywind, it is SLS and Orion that are in real danger of evaporating. They cost way too much for what they are and it’s looking like they could be replaced with better systems for far less money. Sooner or later the people who run our country are going to take a serious look at the numbers and say, “Okay, we can get the same capabilities or better from the private sector for far less money. It’s time to shut this gravy-train down.” The politicians whose pork got cut will try to fight it, of course, but when it is truly over it will be over.

        I don’t believe the Congress or Senate is likely to ever again vote to fund a major return to the Moon program or a mission to Mars program. In the real world there is simply no motivation for them to do so.

        To me it looks like the real future of human space consists of Commercial with the space cadets at NASA funneling what resources they can into the private sector in areas where it would do the most good. To put it another way, I think most serious sober space cadets now realize that no government on Earth is going to fund the human expansion into space. We will have to do it. We being the private sector. The regular people. And the best method the ‘we’ have for allocating resources and moving them around is what we call ‘commercial’.

        So, minus much detail, that’s what I think the future is going to be…

      • Andrew Swallow

        Time for a Bigelow LEO spacestation. The Commercial Crew spacecraft can fly to that.

        • Lovely. I’d support it. It is 2014, there are no plans for it.

          • Reality Bits

            The company’s business case hinges on the availability of domestic, commercially available launch and crew vehicles. Bigelow plans to buy these on margin from the winner of NASA’s commercial crew program, under which the agency is nurturing development of vehicles to ferry crews to and from the space station.

            http://www.spacenews.com/article/civil-space/41194bigelow-aerospace-begins-hiring-round-by-adding-former-astronauts-ham-zamka

            And CCtCap is scheduled to be awarded in Aug-Sep of 2014 …

            • Jim Nobles

              Damn! Mr. Bigelow seems to be completely unperturbed by the potential of a RD-180 non-availability scenario. He doesn’t seem to be concerned that the Atlas 5 might go away. I’m glad to see this.

              The Space News article also says, “NASA expects to select two concepts for full-scale development, including an initial paid crew flight, around the end of September.” which I’m glad to hear as I suspect that if NASA expected to get cut down to one they would be dropping hints about that.

              Well, Bigelow certainly seems to remain bullish on the future of American commercial human space flight. That’s encouraging.

              • Vladislaw

                Bigelow did say he wanted domestic producers, I would imagine he was never comfortable with the russian engines.

      • Dick Eagleson

        They’ll fly to and from one or more twin-BA330 Bigelow LEO space stations. Shortly after the unveiling ot the Dragon V2, Bob Bigelow announced he was shifting out of Park and into Drive with the goal of putting up a first manned LEO station in 2017. He intends to rotate 12-person crews four to six times a year. That level of crew launch and resupply business for even a single station would make ISS a minor sideshow.

        But I imagine you regard Bigelow as even more mythical than you do SpaceX. SpaceX and Bigelow are pipedreams. SLS and Orion are real. Right.

      • Where is Orion going?

        An asteroid? Even you don’t favor that.

        The Moon? Lunar orbit again is nice in a ‘better than nothing’ sort of way, but definitely not to the surface…

        To do much else (especially Mars) requires yet more hardware that’s not even in development.

        Where is Commercial Crew going?

        ISS exists (like it or not). Bigelow products are well into development.

  • Coastal Ron

    The other was bringing the European Space Agency into the program as the supplier of the Orion service module. “They’re doing a terrific job, but they had some challenges,” he said.

    Mr. Geyer is either being disingenuous or misleading about the service module and ESA.

    If ESA hadn’t stepped up to fund the construction of the Service Module he (i.e. NASA) would have had to fund the service module out of the existing Orion budget – which means if he thinks he was set back by the EM-1 test, think of how much further his schedule would have been pushed back if he had to fund the service module too.

    And per info on the NASASpaceFlight site ESA never committed to the 2017 date, as they told NASA it was not doable within the financial constraints ESA and NASA had.

    In some ways the Orion is the polar opposite of the SLS, meaning the SLS is overpowered for any current needs whereas the Orion is “underpowered” for any real human exploration missions. However they both share the same financial traits, which is that they are far too expensive and unaffordable for NASA.

    • And per info on the NASASpaceFlight site ESA never committed to the 2017 date, as they told NASA it was not doable within the financial constraints ESA and NASA had.

      The Bush/Griffin plan was for the US to develop all core components of Constellation because of our bad ISS experience with other nations and schedule slip. ESA’s performance, or lack thereof, on Orion hangs around the necks of Obama and Bolden.

      • Malmesbury

        “The Bush/Griffin plan was for the US to develop all core components of Constellation because of our bad ISS experience with other nations and schedule slip”

        By the end Constellation was slipping a month per month.

        Incidentally ESA has a far better track record than NASA in actually delivering. This is helped by the fact that the stupid stuff gets killed much earlier in their process.

      • Coastal Ron

        amightywind said:

        ESA’s performance, or lack thereof, on Orion hangs around the necks of Obama and Bolden.

        Republican’s in Congress control the budget for Orion more than Obama or Bolden, and since NASA couldn’t build the Service Module itself within the timeframe Congress wanted (see the inaneness of Congress here) NASA had to ask ESA to build the Service Module for them.

        And if you have to have a Service Module for a short-duration spacecraft (which is pretty useless by itself) then the ESA ATV platform is a proven system to build it on, so NASA is lucky to have their experience.

        But all of this continues to highlight the lack of any real future for the Orion or the SLS, since there is not enough money to build them, and certainly not enough money from Republicans in Congress to use either of them.

    • Malmesbury

      The more I hear about this, the more I think it is the wiser heads in NASA want to put back EM-1 until they can fly an all-up vehicle – one that is identical to the one for the first manned mission (EM-2).

      • Ben Russell-Gough

        It would indeed be wise and the best use of limited resources but, as always, politics (obsessed as it is with gestures and appearances) may intervene.

    • Dark Blue Nine

      “Mr. Geyer is either being disingenuous or misleading about the service module and ESA.

      If ESA hadn’t stepped up to fund the construction of the Service Module he (i.e. NASA) would have had to fund the service module out of the existing Orion budget – which means if he thinks he was set back by the EM-1 test, think of how much further his schedule would have been pushed back if he had to fund the service module too.”

      Excellent point.

  • James

    Todd May on SLS Progress: Blah, blah, blah, blah , blah
    Mark Geyer on Orion Progress: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
    Bolden on Obama’s commitment to NASA HSF: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah..

    Augustine III Committee to the new President: SLS and Orion/MPCV are unaffordable and can never meet any mission requirement. For details, see Augustine II Committee report on Constellation Program

    New President: I’m cancelling SLS and Orion

  • Dark Blue Nine

    For the record, here’s what we’ve spent on Orion MPCV through 2014. All figures are prior-year actuals or enacted from NASA’s annual budget request:

    Fiscal Millions of
    Year Dollars

    2006 839.2
    2007 479.8
    2008 889.5
    2009 1387.2
    2010 1383.5
    2011 1196.0
    2012 1200.0
    2013 1113.8
    2014 1197.0

    Total 9686.0

    It’s hard to justify the dismal performance on the project to date with this kind of budget. Nearly $10 billion and eight years has blown on what is supposed to be America’s flagship human spacecraft. Yet Orion MPCV is grossly overweight, bedeviled by testing failures, hampered by partner performance, and slipping schedule.

    And here’s what we’re projected to spend on Orion MPCV through the first crewed flight (EM-2), assuming it goes off in 2021. All figures are estimates from NASA’s 2015 budget request, except for FY 2020-2021, which are flat-line projections from FY 2019:

    Fiscal Millions of
    Year Dollars

    2015 1052.8
    2016 1096.3
    2017 1119.8
    2018 1122.9
    2019 1126.7
    2020 1125.0
    2021 1125.0

    Total 7768.5

    So despite the project’s lousy performance to date, we’re planning to flush at least another $8 billion down the Orion MPCV drain before it actually does what it’s supposed to do — fly astronauts. Over $17 billion for an oversized 1960s-era capsule before the first astronaut flies on it. (And that assumes that the project miraculously solves all of its current issues and experiences no more schedule slips.)

    This is nuts. Terminate Orion MPCV.

    • Vladislaw

      That 17 billion would have paid for 120 launches of Falcon 9 and dragon V2. We could have put 840 astronauts into space. Instead we got 17 billion in vaporware.

    • It looks like Bolden’s performance has been abysmal. It is clearly evident from your figures from 2009 on. It looks like restructuring is in order. I have wondered why Obama is so tolerant of the incompetence he is surrounded with. It is no serving him well.

      • Coastal Ron

        amightywind said:

        It looks like Bolden’s performance has been abysmal. It is clearly evident from your figures from 2009 on.

        Comedy is not your strong suit. Nor apparently is interpretation of facts.

        Per the recent GAO report on selected large-scale projects at NASA, average launch delay for non-JWST projects has been reduced from 11 months to 3 months under Bolden, and development and cost growth has been reduced from 12% to 3%. From a management perspective, which is what the NASA Administrator is supposed to be doing, Bolden has been doing an exceptional job compared to his predecessor.

        As to the MPCV, it was Congress that told NASA to see if Michael Griffin’s “Apollo on steroids” design could waste another $8B in the fruitless attempt to create something useful. And so far the results are as expected.

        For those of us that truly want to see human exploration beyond LEO again within our lifetime, we weep at the waste of time and money for the disposable & cramped MPCV when we should working on 21st century designs like the reusable Nautilus-X.

        • The sudden ramp in funding and the chaos introduced into the Constellation project and 2009 are correlated, that is to those of us who are not blindly political.

          • Coastal Ron

            amightywind said:

            The sudden ramp in funding and the chaos introduced into the Constellation project…

            The Constellation program was evaluated based on where Michael Griffin had taken it, which was grossly over budget and slipping further behind schedule every year. And you think such behavior should be rewarded?

            Fortunately just about every Republican in the House that had major NASA facilities agreed that the Constellation program should be cancelled. Spin that any way you want but it still comes out the same – it was a bipartisan decision to cancel it.

            As to Bolden vs Griffin, it’s pretty obvious that Bolden has been the better manager of the people’s money on programs, and that too is just a fact. Sorry.

            …that is to those of us who are not blindly political.

            If one does not open their eyes it’s impossible to determine if they are blind or not… ;-)

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “It looks like Bolden’s performance has been abysmal. It is clearly evident from your figures from 2009 on.”

        How idiotic. Bolden’s first NASA budget was FY 2011, not FY 2009. Duh…

        “It looks like restructuring is in order.”

        A restructuring back to FY 2006-8 budget levels would be great. MPCV’s annual budget should be whacked by several hundred million as a wake-up call.

        “It is no serving him well.”

        And your grammar isn’t serving you well, either.

  • Malmesbury

    For reference, for $17B we could

    1) man rate Delta 4
    2) Restart F1A
    3) fund all the CC vehicles.
    3) fund giving all of them beyond LEO capability – a separate hab, heat shield etc.
    4) fixed price on two of the proposed alternatives to SLS

    Etc etc

    We would be up to our armpits in space vehicles…

    • James

      “We would be up to our armpits in space vehicles…”

      As long as Space X / commercial space has the lead w NASA in consultant/advisor role…..

  • josh

    This program started in 2005 and got over 10 billion in funding. Freaking unbelievable.

  • Very mild topic drift, but it’s worth your time to read this blog article from the Houston Press:

    “Space Flight: Increasingly, Gifted Individuals are Opting for the Private Sector Over NASA”

    The best article I’ve read detailing the difference in cultures between OldSpace and NewSpace.

    Hoffman took him up on the offer, flying out to Los Angeles in the spring for a private tour. Driving up to the SpaceX headquarters, she was struck by how unassuming it was, how small compared to NASA, how plain on the outside and rather like a warehouse.

    As she walked through the complex, she was also surprised to find open work areas where NASA would have had endless hallways, offices and desks. Hoffman described SpaceX as resembling a giant workshop, a hive of activity in which employees stood working on nitty-gritty mechanical and electrical engineering. Everything in the shop was bound for space or was related to space. No one sat around talking to friends in the morning, “another level from what you see at NASA,” she said. “They’re very purpose-driven. It looked like every project was getting the attention it deserved.”

    Seeing SpaceX in production forced Hoffman to acknowledge NASA might not be the best fit for her. The tour reminded her of the many mentors who had gone into the commercial sector of the space industry in search of better pay and more say in the direction their employers take. She thought back to the attrition she saw firsthand at Johnson Space Center and how understaffed divisions struggled to maintain operations.

    • James

      ‘Sonja Alexander/JSC said (in response to the migration to commercial space, from NASA). Collaboration has been the NASA business model since the agency was created.”

      True. And in the 60′s and 70′s, NASA’s role in that collaboration was that of leader, do’er, visionary…etc. A great role to attract young energetic talent.

      However, today, NASA’s role in that Collaboration is follower, broker, funding source. Not a great role if one wishes to attract young talent.

      NASA is kidding it self if it thinks its’ going to be a thriving Agency in the next 50 years, like it was for much of the first 30 years of it’s existence.

    • Vladislaw

      Thanks for the link. It stated a lot of what really needs to be said about Congress and how it moves NASA in all the wrong ways.

  • Jim Nobles wrote: “Sooner or later the people who run our country are going to take a serious look at the numbers and say, “Okay, we can get the same capabilities or better from the private sector for far less money”.

    To what extent would the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy in early to mid-2015 be that turning point? And, to what extent is the FH actually capable of replacing the SLS considering 53 tonnes to LEO, the potential of “buddy tanking” = a second FH topping off the first FH, yet FH not having a cryogenic upper stage?

    • Coastal Ron

      DougSpace said:

      To what extent would the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy in early to mid-2015 be that turning point? And, to what extent is the FH actually capable of replacing the SLS considering 53 tonnes to LEO…

      Unless a real customer for the SLS is found (the MPCV does not count because it is useless by itself), there is no need for the SLS at all. So from that perspective ANY launcher replaces the SLS, no matter how big or small.

      We have to keep in mind that having a launch capability does not equal having a need. The predecessor to the SLS, the Ares V, was being designed for a specific stack of hardware to be lifted, but when Constellation was cancelled and Congress de-rated the Ares V to the SLS there was no defined or known need for sending that much mass to space at one time. And so far Congress has refused to fund any use for the SLS.

      So since the SLS was being built as a jobs program, and not for known customer needs, the Falcon Heavy doesn’t really offer an alternative per se (i.e. there are no funded payloads bigger than 20mt), just a reminder of how pork politics can waste taxpayer money.

    • Vladislaw

      I do not believe it will be the Falcon Heavy. All it represents is a bigger rocket. Big rockets are not a real bell weather on proof of competence, in my opinion. The first human crewed flight will be the one. If SpaceX can launch people, anything else would be considered doable. With the raptor proceeding congressional members will have to acknowledge capability for whatever endervor they pursue.

      • josh

        yeah, but i think sls/orion funding will just evaporate. it won’t be redirected to new space projects. congress porkers would get nothing out of that.

        • Andrew Swallow

          If you expect SLS/Orion’s funding to be cut get new programs started so the committee members can transfer the money within NASA’s budget. The rest of Congress will want to transfer the money to their own pet agency.

  • Jim Nobles

    Charles Lurio just tweeted that that the CCtCap award is likely on 22 or 29 Aug and that it will be “probably two “full” awards, no “half;” depending on $ avail.”

    In a situation like that who is probably going to take it?

    • Michael Kent

      90% probable it’s Boeing and SpaceX, IMO.

      As it should be.

      • Coastal Ron

        Michael Kent said:

        90% probable it’s Boeing and SpaceX, IMO.

        Insider scuttlebutt says otherwise. More like SpaceX and Sierra Nevada, and both fully funded.

        As it should be.

        I have no doubt that Boeing could build a safe vehicle, but the CST-100 doesn’t offer anything the Dragon does, and it actually has less capabilities and costs more. So from that standpoint it makes sense that NASA would prefer to have as a second vehicle one that provides something the other two can’t provide, and that is cross-range ability and low g-force landings. Only the Dream Chaser can do that, so if NASA does choose it you’ll know why.

        Plus, if you look at the progress of all three teams, Boeing is the furthest behind in actual vehicle building and testing. They were cited in the CCiCap Selection Statement for providing the least amount of internal funding, so Boeing is not acting like they really want this program – certainly not as much as Sierra Nevada and SpaceX want it.

        Hopefully we’ll know soon.

        • Vladislaw

          And it would look like NASA is supporting an international angle with the support Dream Chaser is getting from Europe. I always thought NASA would prefer the idea of a small shuttle for their astronauts. Dragon as the lifeboat and for supporting bigelow.

        • Michael Kent

          “Insider scuttlebutt says otherwise. More like SpaceX and Sierra Nevada, and both fully funded.”

          Do you have a source for that scuttlebutt? That’s going to set up one heckuva fight in Congress.

          “the CST-100 doesn’t offer anything the Dragon does [not, I assume]“

          1) Orbital reboost of ISS. 2) More importantly, it offers a much lower-risk solution.

          Boeing makes its schedules. Even on large, complex programs they are usually no more than a few months behind on schedules laid out years before.

          SpaceX does not. In 2005 SpaceX was saying Falcon 9 would fly EELV-class missions in 2007. Falcon 9 didn’t fly at all until 2010 and didn’t fly a payload fairing until 2013. Orbcomm OG2 flew four years late. Falcon Heavy was originally scheduled for 2012, then 2013, then 2014, and now mid-2015. The Dragon in-flight abort test is running almost a year behind schedule.

          NASA can’t afford delays on Commercial Crew. Soyuz has a two-year lead time. If SpaceX pulls its usual “we’ll fly next year” and then has multi-year slips, as they did for Falcon 1, Falcon 9, Dragon, and Falcon Heavy, American astronauts are grounded for the duration, putting the Western side of the station in jeopardy.

          And then there’s Sierra Nevada. Not only have they never built a manned spacecraft before, they’ve built almost no spacecraft whatsoever. Their most complex spacecraft design is the Orbcomm OG-2 spacecraft which only recently flew, and even those satellites used Boeing communications payloads. They are by far the smallest company in the competition, with the fewest financial and technical resources, set up to do by far the most complex design of the three, starting from several years behind Boeing and SpaceX.

          I suppose it’s possible NASA could choose Sierra Nevada — it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve destroyed a program choosing the highest-risk contractor to do a job (Orion, Ares, X-33) — but it seems a real stretch.

          “Boeing is the furthest behind in actual vehicle building and testing.”

          They are the furthest along in the CCiCap contract. Per the latest schedule, Boeing is completing its CDR this month. The purpose of CCiCap was to advance the commercial crew vehicles to CDR. Boeing is doing this. SpaceX is months behind Boeing in this activity, and Sierra Nevada isn’t doing it at all.

          The only hardware Sierra Nevada has demontrated is their Engineering Test Article used to test their landing system. It flew one time, skidded off the runway, rolled over, and was destroyed. Boeing demonstrated their landing system years ago. SpaceX has yet to do so, planning for their DragonFly tests at some point in the indefinite future.

          Boeing has demonstrated their structure, their landing system, their abort engines, their avionics, their mission control, and their software. They’ve taken all of that and their launch pad mods through CDR. Sierra Nevada has demonstrated almost none of that. They haven’t even discussed pad requirements with ULA yet, let along worked the design.

          SpaceX has much of that down through the cargo Dragon, but the Dragon 2 changes are as of yet untested. The Dragon 2 revealed in May was the Interior Structural Qualification Article, not the manned or even the unmanned orbital test article as was widely assumed. Since SpaceX has not been through CDR yet, any flight hardware built at this time would be built at risk and likely require substantial re-work before it can fly. That’s been their past MO (Falcon 9 pad test, COTS 2/3 Dragon, etc.).

          It may not look like it to the fanboys, but to an aerospace engineer, Boeing is close to, if not beyond, SpaceX in the development cycle (it depends on how much rework SpaceX gets out of CDR and testing). And they are way, way, beyond Sierra Nevada.

          This program is too important to leave to new-hires. If it fails, not only commercial manned space but also the ISS goes with it. That would leave the SLS/Orion as the only manned space program in the Western world. (Shudder.)

          • Dick Eagleson

            Both SpaceX and SNC have production facilities in which CCDev vehicles are actually being produced. SpaceX has its own facility and SNC has contracted for theirs, but composites are being laid up and metal is being bent and machined. Boeing, despite probably having more idle production space corporate-wide than SpaceX and SNC have active production space combined, has elected to rent a surplus building at KSC as one of its endless exercises in stroking local politicos. Nothing is yet installed there, nor will there ever be unless Boeing gets one of the CCtCap contracts. Having no factory at this late date doesn’t strike me as much of an indication of leadership, temporal or otherwise. It smacks of cheeseparing.

            A number of your other assertions seem at least as iffy. For one, the Dream Chaser ETA was not “destroyed” in its landing mishap. It has been repaired and is set to make more drop tests later this year.

            The slippage of the Falcon Heavy’s schedule has been mostly due to: (1) the decision to upgrade its base to the Falcon 9v1.1 core rather than the originally intended Falcon 9 v1.0 core, and (2) the decision to go with a crossfeed system between the propellant tankage of the center and side cores of the already-upgraded FH. The original conception of the FH could likely have been delivered by now, but the one that actually emerges in 2015 will be, in essence, a 3rd-generation version.

            As has also been widely noted, SpaceX’s delays are hardly exceptional in the aerospace industry. The worst of them pale in comparison to the decade-plus delays in the F-35 project, for example, or the serial stumbling that accompanied the development of the 787. Boeing may be old, but it is far from always reliable. The “old pros” screw up at least as much as the brash upstarts. On the evidence to-date, more I’d say.

            • Vladislaw

              D.E. wrote:

              “As has also been widely noted, SpaceX’s delays are hardly exceptional in the aerospace industry.”

              Remind me again … How much do COTS and Commercial crew delays cost the American taxpayer versus the cost of delays for cost plus SLS/MPCV?

          • Coastal Ron

            Michael Kent said:

            Do you have a source for that scuttlebutt?

            I’m not at liberty to say, but they have had inside information before.

            That’s going to set up one heckuva fight in Congress.

            Oh no doubt Boeing supporters will be disappointed, but who specifically in Congress is going to raise a stink over this? And what are they going to do, change the negotiated appropriations bill?

            I think the same thing is happen as did with the CCiCap awards where ATK lost, which is that NASA will come out with a Selection Statement that will highlight the logic of the choices they made, and that will grudgingly satisfy the critics.

            Boeing makes its schedules. Even on large, complex programs they are usually no more than a few months behind on schedules laid out years before.

            No doubt, Boeing can build a vehicle that works. But I think what we’ll see is that they are now perceived to be much further from their first flight than SpaceX is, and that is really who they are competing with for the 1st position in Commercial Crew – the two capsules (i.e. low risk). Not only that SpaceX will be significantly less expensive, which is a factor too.

            So if SpaceX wins the 1st position, then the 2nd one boils down to this – does NASA want the same capabilities in the 2nd vehicle, or would they want to take a chance on getting capabilities that are really desirable like low entry and landing g-forces and cross-range capability? I think that’s how they look at it, and that’s why Boeing loses.

            And then there’s Sierra Nevada. Not only have they never built a manned spacecraft before, they’ve built almost no spacecraft whatsoever.

            You are forgetting that Sierra Nevada contracted with Lockheed Martin to build their structural components for the Dream Chaser, and they have already demonstrated part of their flight envelope. They have been doing a good job doing risk reduction.

            It [Dream Chaser] flew one time, skidded off the runway, rolled over, and was destroyed.

            Well that’s just plain false. The vehicle was damaged slightly, but it has been repaired and will be flying again. Where do you get the idea that it was “destroyed”?

            This program is too important to leave to new-hires.

            Oh now you are being just downright condescending. When was the last time Boeing built a space vehicle? And are those same employees working on the CST-100? No, of course not. So your statement applies to Boeing just as it does to others.

            And just a note – SpaceX is currently the only company in the running that has recent expertise in building human-rated/NASA-approved spacecraft. But quite honestly that really doesn’t matter, since our aerospace industry is so mature now that new entrants can hire the relevant experience they need. We’re not in the 60′s anymore, which means companies like Sierra Nevada can find what they need on the open market – and they apparently have done pretty well using that strategy.

            The latest dates I’m hearing are either the 22nd or the 29th for the announcement.

            • Michael Kent

              “Oh no doubt Boeing supporters will be disappointed, but who specifically in Congress is going to raise a stink over this?”

              In this instance a large portion of the Congress.

              There wouldn’t even be a Commercial Crew program without Boeing. The House zeroed funding for it in 2010 until Boeing flew a team to Washington to brief House staffers on its plans for Commercial Crew. Most in Washington considered the whole idea of commercial manned space to be ridiculous until Boeing put its name on it.

              More recently, the movement to make safety the prime criterion for the commercial crew award was a marker laid down to back Boeing’s bid. It is strongly felt in some circles (remember the hobby-rocket comments?) that manned space is too difficult for private enterprise. Only NASA, it is felt, and maybe Boeing could even do the job.

              The effort to force a downselect to a single provider and the effort to force TINA compliance onto the Commercial Crew program should be seen in similar light.

              I don’t agree with that sentiment — I think SpaceX can accomplish the task, just not on time — but that sentiment is strong in large segments of our government.

              “the two capsules (i.e. low risk).”

              It’s not just technical risk. It’s programmatic risk. Can the contractor do the job, reliably, and on time?

              “You are forgetting that Sierra Nevada contracted with Lockheed Martin to build their structural components for the Dream Chaser”

              Lockheed has never built a manned spacecraft before either. And judging by its progress on Orion, I’m not feeling a whole lot of confidence in that decision.

              “They [Sierra Nevada] have been doing a good job doing risk reduction.”

              Indeed they have. That’s where they’re at right now — ending risk reduction and beginning detail design. They just recently finished the trade study for their main engine. That’s a long ways away from where Boeing is, who just passed CDR.

              “When was the last time Boeing built a space vehicle?”

              The Space Shuttle orbiter, the X-37, most of the International Space Station…

              “And just a note – SpaceX is currently the only company in the running that has recent expertise in building human-rated/NASA-approved spacecraft”

              The cargo Dragon is not a manned vehicle. It’s an unmanned craft that has only to meet astronaut ingress requirements. Requirements, by the way, that they needed substantial help from Boeing to meet.

          • Coastal Ron

            Michael Kent said:

            Boeing makes its schedules.

            Um, the 787 was late by 3 years.

            I guess that destroys that assertion, eh? ;-)

            • Michael Kent

              787 was a major screw-up for Boeing, that’s true. But that’s one program out of many. F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, C-17 Globemaster, CH-47F Chinook, AH-64 Apache Block III, JDAM, Small Diameter Bomb, WGS, TDRS, GOES, P-8 Poseidon, and KC-46 Pegasus are all on, or nearly on, schedule. That’s a far, far better track record than SpaceX or Lockheed Martin.

          • NASA can’t afford delays on Commercial Crew. Soyuz has a two-year lead time. If SpaceX pulls its usual “we’ll fly next year” and then has multi-year slips, as they did for Falcon 1, Falcon 9, Dragon, and Falcon Heavy, American astronauts are grounded for the duration, putting the Western side of the station in jeopardy.

            SpaceX could fly crew on the very next Dragon CRS flight, if NASA asked them to.

            • Michael Kent

              Dragon CRS does not have a life-support system, does not have internal controls, does not have a launch abort system, does not have a docking port, and doesn’t even have crew seats.

              • Couches and life support could be added quickly if it were important to do so. Abort, docking port and internal controls are nice to have but not absolutely necessary. You could get crew to ISS without them.

              • common sense

                Rand Simberg is absolutely right in this instance.

              • Michael Kent

                You think SpaceX can design, develop, fabricate, assemble, test, certify, install, check-out, and qualify a life support system in three weeks? Really?

              • Andrew Swallow

                The cargo Dragon first flew in December 2010 and first berthed to the ISS in May 2012. A flight of the V2 Dragon in mid-2015 will have given over 4 years for the development and testing of the life support.

              • They could have a system that would work in that time, yes. It wouldn’t meet all of the NASA paperwork hoops, but it would do the job.

              • common sense

                Dragon was designed to accommodate crew from the start.

                The whole thing may not be ready to go but I can see no reason why it could not be done very quickly for such a short trip to ISS and back.

      • josh

        yes, because boeing’s performance in recent years inspires such confidence. what a great success their “dreamliner” has been! lmao
        boeing is just another underperforming, over billing old space company that should be treated accordingly, i.e. given the boot.

  • common sense

    Boeing and S…NC

  • Dick Eagleson

    Hoping for SpaceX and SNC.

    • common sense

      It all depends how they will make their selection.

      If they look at the more advanced vehicles in terms of development and the variety of technology it will be SpaceX and SNC.

      If they want to ensure 2 competitors can make it then probably SNC and Boeing, since Boeing made the case they cannot develop CST-100 without government funding. SNC also has run their program very much like an old-school NASA program involving multiple companies, States.

      SpaceX and SNC made the case they will go forward even without NASA funding.

      SpaceX just laid off 200-400 employees (5 to 10% of total employees at SpaceX). Not exactly a sign they expect to win a government contract.

      So?

      • Vladislaw

        I think all the launch problems were getting sorted out with cutting the company deadwood. The performance review was right at the end of all those problems, there was also talk of money crunch. The court will probaly shine a little light on it.

        • common sense

          It is what SpaceX wants of course to justify it, on deadwood. But the company is cutting 5% to 10% of its entire manpower because they are deadwood? Seems a little extreme to me.

          Now, SpaceX has asked its employees to work hours and days overtime for years which may be okay for exempt employees but not for hourly employees. By law.

          We’ll see.

      • josh

        spacex actually is adding more jobs than they’re cutting. read the news.

        • common sense

          Josh, I have supported SpaceX since when nobody knew about them and in many more ways that you can possibly imagine. Yet if they break the law they have to be held accountable. Otherwise they have no say and high-ground in how OldSpace makes their business. And the ULA blockbuy suddenly becomes moot.

          If I were an investor I would be very very (did I say very?) unhappy if my investment were at risk for such reasons as not paying their employees.

          As to the number of hires vs lay-offs I think you would be surprised how it works at SpaceX.

          Nevertheless, a company expecting a government contract that will increase their production does not cut their manpower. Hiring is not everything. Training eats up a large share of your investment in human resources. And the human resources are not infinite. If you expect training to be expedited then it means overtime which in turns means paying your employees.

          Supporter yes. Worshipper no.

          • josh

            let’s wait and see how this lawsuit turns out. at the moment these are just allegations.

            and spacex has publicly stated that they’re still growing. they’re hiring more people than they recently let go.

            • common sense

              Allegations? You don’t know SpaceX. The question is whether it was legal or illegal.

              If SpaceX say they are still growing it means they actually are growing? Really? I think you need to approach this with a more critical eye.

              SpaceX is doing and has done a lot of very good and smart things over the years but the way they approach labor is not one. See this for example http://www.businessinsider.com/what-its-like-to-work-for-elon-musk-2014-6

              FWIW.

              • Dick Eagleson

                Allegations? You don’t know SpaceX.

                I suspect that makes two of us. Despite your protestations of being a SpaceX supporter, you seem quite ready to believe anything said against them.

                The question is whether it was legal or illegal.

                That’s always the question in lawsuits isn’t it? I see no reason to, as many – including you – have done here and elsewhere, simply assume SpaceX is guilty as charged. I’ve done a bit of looking into the actual law on “mass layoffs” as the law refers to them. What SpaceX did doesn’t appear to fit within the legal definition of a “mass layoff” in California. The definition is 50 or more dismissals in a 30-day period for reasons of lack of money or of work. As SpaceX’s dismissals meet the first, but not the second of these conditions, it seems quite possible a court will rule that no “mass layoff” actually occurred, just, as SpaceX maintains, a lot of firings for cause over a short interval.

                SpaceX is doing and has done a lot of very good and smart things over the years but the way they approach labor is not one.

                And so we find, additionally, from the linked article, that Elon Musk is not Nicely Nicely Johnson from Guys and Dolls. One anonymous person says he was scary and not inspirational. Another, who doesn’t mind signing her name, says she personally witnessed what sounds a lot like an entrepreneurial version of the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. I completely believe that Mr. Anonymous didn’t find Elon inspiring. But it would seem he is in the decided minority in that respect. There are always people who simply don’t fit into a given corporate culture. I’ve had that experience myself and seen others having it at places I found much more personally agreeable.

                Elon is an authentic genius and geniuses are often inclined to be short with people who can’t keep up with them. As that includes just about everyone, geniuses have deserved reputations for being unsparing taskmasters. I believe one of the other commenters here referred to Steve Jobs in this same context. I would additionally mention the late William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor and founder of one of the pioneer companies that metastasized into what eventually became Silicon Valley. Compared to stories told about Shockley as an employer, Elon Musk sounds like a relative walk in the park.

                If SpaceX say they are still growing it means they actually are growing? Really? I think you need to approach this with a more critical eye.

                As to the question of whether or not SpaceX is still hiring, this turns out to be one of the rare occasions on which I can actually contribute something from my personal experience that bears directly on the question at issue. I was contacted recently by a community college at which I got an Associates degree a couple years back. The guy on the phone said SpaceX was hiring and had asked for info on all their recent grads in certain fields. If SpaceX isn’t hiring, they’re doing a world-class job of faking it.

              • common sense

                I see. I don’t know what protestations you are talking about. You have been on this forum what a few months now? Do you think you know all there is to know about other posters?

                Now it’s up to you to believe or not what I am saying for all I care. But you may want to inquire, not with Elon but rather his employees.

                Also please point to me where I said that SpaceX is guilty of any thing? Make sure you read for comprehension. I am saying they have a pathetic way of treating their people. Some accept it, some don’t.

                “Elon Musk is not Nicely Nicely Johnson from Guys and Dolls” Clearly tinker bells are not only in support of SLS/MPCV. Did you work for Elon? What do you actually know about his methods?

                Ah geniuses… Again what do you know about geniuses? Ever worked with geniuses yourself?

                Anyway. Enough for now. Here is a suggestion. Go and apply to SpaceX and go work for your idol. Then come back and tell us all ignorant about what it is like after 1 week, 1 month and 1 year. If you can last that much.

                The question is whether the lay-off was or not legal. It it were then it’ll be it. If not there are possible consequences for the company and its investors. Of course settlements are a great way to go.

                Oh well.

              • Dick Eagleson

                I don’t know what protestations you are talking about.

                Was this you or someone else using the same ID?

                Josh, I have supported SpaceX since when nobody knew about them and in many more ways that you can possibly imagine.

                Now, on to other matters.

                You have been on this forum what a few months now?

                To tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kind of lost track. Was it five comments or was it six? But seeing as how… :)

                Do you think you know all there is to know about other posters?

                I know nothing for sure about you – not even your name. I infer things about you based on what you write, but I freely admit I could be wrong. That is simply the case with many Web-based interactions.

                If you feel I have some sort of obligation to know all about you before making a reply to one of your comments when you reveal so little about yourself perhaps I should assume you are a woman. :)

                Also please point to me where I said that SpaceX is guilty of any thing?

                You never come right out and say it, you just keep up a steady drumbeat of “If I was an investor and they did X I’d be upset” and suchlike. The clear implication of your comments is that you believe SpaceX to be guilty of mistreating its employees and of labor law violations. Why not just say what you plainly believe to be true instead of weaseling around with tone and passive-aggressive implication?

                Are you a woman?

                But you may want to inquire, not with Elon but rather his employees.

                I knew two of SpaceX’s employees casually through classes and extracurricular activities at that community college I mentioned attending a few comments back. Two people isn’t much of a statistical sample but, for whatever it may be worth, neither had a bad word to say about working conditions or anything else. One young guy was quite the SpaceX cheerleader. The other guy was in his 30′s, had worked other places and seemed to like SpaceX just fine but was more reserved.

                Did you work for Elon? What do you actually know about his methods?

                No,I have never worked at SpaceX and have no knowledge, except the little bit of conversation I had with the two SpaceX employees I met at college, about what SpaceX work life is like.

                What is the basis for your claim of such knowledge?

                Again what do you know about geniuses?

                I know they’re a lot smarter than I am. I had the chance to find this out when I made the acquaintance of several while I was doing my first stint as an undergrad in the early 70′s.

                Ever worked with geniuses yourself?

                Never worked with any, exactly, but I hung out socially for a time with Eugene Volokh, who was a childhood math and computer software prodigy and is now a professor of constitutional law at UCLA and a very influential law blogger. He was in his mid to late teens at the time and I was in my early 30′s. Splendid company and spooky bright. Wish I’d kept in touch.

                Does that help? I hate to drop names to no good purpose.

                Here is a suggestion. Go and apply to SpaceX and go work for your idol. Then come back and tell us all ignorant about what it is like after 1 week, 1 month and 1 year. If you can last that much.

                Ooooo! Touchy much?

                Seriously, I’d be delighted to work for SpaceX but my current – I hope transient – medical decrepitude makes it impossible to work for anyone just now. Even if I were well, there are plenty of people in this area (I live about three miles from the SpaceX plant) who are younger than I and have years of aerospace experience I lack. The combination of Barack Obama in the White House and Jerry Brown in the statehouse has insured that Marx’s “reserve army of the unemployed” has never had more battalions than it does now in Southern California.

                Understand, though, that even if SpaceX was the Dickensian horror show you believe it be, there are a lot of companies that are that bad or worse. I know. I’ve worked for more than a few of them. I’ve been abused plenty of times at jobs that in no way had any potential to change the world. So I’d have to rate even being abused at SpaceX a solid step up from my median employment experience.

                The question is whether the lay-off was or not legal.

                True. Based on my, admittedly layman’s, reading of the relevant law, I think SpaceX has a more than decent chance of prevailing in court, at least if the letter of the law still actually means anything in these solipsistic times.

                And that returns us to where we started.

              • common sense

                “Are you a woman?”

                Are you asking me on a date?

              • Common Sense: Are you asking me on a date?

                Much as I often agree with Dick’s posts, this is a great answer — and exactly what the comment deserved.

                – Donald

              • Dick Eagleson

                Are you asking me on a date?

                No. I’m afraid I’m terminally married and the wife has granted me no “hall pass” privileges.

                I was merely curious as your style of argumentation about SpaceX’s employment practices hinted at female psychology.

                If you are indeed the only one who comments here under the “common sense” ID, then I regard our little dustup anent SpaceX as a bit of an anomaly. Like Donald’s comments, I generally agree with yours.

    • Hoping for SpaceX and SNC as well.

      When the commercial space program was created by the Bush administration in 2005, the idea was to encourage the private sector to innovate by providing milestone awards that might mitigate any losses due to failure.

      Of the three candidates, Dragon and Dream Chaser attempt to innovate a lot more than the Boeing CST-100. It’s hard to imagine Boeing behaving any differently than it’s behaved over the last several decades, threatening to lay off people and close plants unless it gets government money in compensation for any innovatoin.

      A second company would help keep Boeing honest, but in my opinion Boeing wouldn’t change its behavior and instead would seek ways to disable its competition through block buys and political lobbying.

      If NASA honors the original intent of the commercial space program, they should select SpaceX and Sierra Nevada.

      • common sense

        The thing is that innovation is not necessarily what makes a winner. Right or wrong. Some times not even overall cost.

        There are many more things to consider in the competition some of which are political.

  • Malmesbury

    “congressional members will have to acknowledge capability for whatever endervor they pursue.”

    No, they will work to “preserve capability” – keep the jobs in their districts.

    The space program is a political construct that is designed to allocate cool jobs to the districts of those who have the power. They vote for this, knowing that the “proper” companies will “support” them for re-election.

    The space program is 95% jobs, 5% space stuff according to these people. Ask them and they will often tell you so. At the moment they are very frustrated that NASA can’t do the important stuff (the jobs) and deliver the space bit (the other 5%)

    SpaceX, SNC and even the portion of Boeing that is doing CST-100 are bring rude – they seem to believe that they can get a chunk of the budget which has already been bought and paid for in political influence and contributions by others over decades. Merely doing the job 10x cheaper is insolence – don’t these people know their place?

    The traditional way of dealing with this would be to cancel commercial crew and replace it with a program with a sole source to the “right” providers. The problem is that the “right” people aren’t in the running and time has run out.

    • Vladislaw

      Yes, that is true, the Porkonauts from the Space states will continue to try and protect those fiefdoms. I am refering to the broader Congress. As I have stated before, in three industries, communications, transportation, and energy they all have there supporters in congress and institutional support builds up for each type. Pony Express>telegraph>telephone>satellite communications. Each creates a vested interest for some districts and members of congress. Remember when Ma Bell was a government sanctioned monopoly? Each form has their supporters but the rest of the congress embraces the new paradigm and the pork gets voted on in the broader congress for someone’s new pork system.

      This will happen with NASA they will all get their pork right up until they don’t anymore. It gets stripped out and moved elsewhere. Look what is happening with spaceports? New commercial ones are popping up, they are now getting the new pork from state/local/federal. NASA spaceports/launchpads are getting transitioned and losing funding. This will happen more and more. That recent article that Stephen linked to, shows it in a different area, people are not seeing NASA as the automatic “goto” place anymore if you are really serious about getting into space.

      The transition is actually already taking place, I believe the real tipping point for the broader congress will be commercial human spaceflight.

      • Vladislaw

        I should add, when you hear congressional members like Senator Shelby call them “hobby rockets” it is because of no manned commercial flights. “Ony NASA can do it” is the clarion call. Hell DCSCA has been ringing that bell on here for years, “tick tick tick” no commercial human spaceflight. For a lot of other posters as well that is always the litmus test they throw at you. When members from space states try to use that same old tired meme in the near future, the bellweather, “only NASA can do it” will no longer work and a new paradigm will start in force.

  • Malmesbury

    ” it is because of no manned commercial flights”

    That is just the hook they hang their hats on. A fraction of a second after the first crew docks at ISS on a CC vehicle the song will change. To another reason why their spending must be protected.

  • Ron, The rest of Congress voted for the SLS even though there was, at the time, perhaps no payload requiring this capacity. My take is that they wanted to keep open the hardware option for missions beyond the Earth-Moon system or even back to the Moon if future political winds blew that direction.

    So again my technical question:
    To what extent would the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy in early to mid-2015 be that turning point? And, to what extent is the FH actually capable of replacing the SLS considering 53 tonnes to LEO, the potential of “buddy tanking” = a second FH topping off the first FH, yet FH not having a cryogenic upper stage?

    In other words, would the successful launch of a FH be sufficient to make the case logically that the SLS is not necessary given the aspirational goals of missions BLEO?

    • Jim Nobles

      In other words, would the successful launch of a FH be sufficient to make the case logically that the SLS is not necessary given the aspirational goals of missions BLEO?

      It is my hope that as soon as Falcon Heavy is real the change toward a more reasonable priced BLEO human space program can begin to take shape. It will take some effort but the numbers, the logic, the common sense, and perhaps the angels will be on our side.

      I would like to see plans and drawings and details of proposed missions based around the ~50 ton architecture. I would hope there would be many such proposals with the savings and new capabilities made glaringly obvious. I don’t expect these proposals to come from NASA. If anything I would suspect proposals to emerge in a manner similar to the way DIRECT came into being. Making good cases with sound logic and realistic numbers.

      • Vladislaw

        As long as it doesn’t lift 70 tons, the baseline in the Augustine committee and the benchmark that Congress keeps hammering on I do not believe 53 tons will do it, unless like you suggest, some plans are put forward that can utilize it.

        • Dick Eagleson

          There are a number of ways to get the Falcon Heavy’s lift capacity to LEO up to, and even well beyond, the 70 tonne mark. All involve building more powerful uper stages for the beast. None would very expensive to develop, certainly not by conventional NASA standards. If Congress thinks it can foil SpaceX participation in BEO projects by making 70 tonnes-to-LEO a non-negotiable magic number, they’re fooling themselves.

          • Jim Nobles

            I’d like to see what people think could be done with a two FH mission, for example. Or one FH and one F9. Or multiple FHs.

            Not necessarily looking to replace any program of record so much as beginning the exercise of educating people as to what is actually possible with the new equipment and the new costs.

            I don’t expect everyone to just throw up their arms, shout, and throw away all existing programs when FH comes online but the numbers and logic are on the side of the new equipment and the new players. I wouldn’t by shy about driving that point home.

            I also personally would not advertise FH as a SLS Killer (although it may be). I’d just brag about what the new equipment can do and the affordability of it. If we try to have the FH go head-to-head with SLS in some kind of cage match I don’t think it will be a good idea. The politicians would be the referees and they could always arrange the rules to suit their favorite.

          • Vladislaw

            I agree with you .. it really wouldn’t take a very high energy second stage, but Doug predicated his question on:

            “To what extent would the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy in early to mid-2015 be that turning point? ”

            The first successful launch. I would imagine they will not test the cross feed on the first flight so it would only be pushing about 43 tons. I do not think that will cause the tipping point to the general congress. You will still hear the same mantra’s from the Space State congressional members. I truely believe the real benchmark will be a human launch, once they have achieved that all other plans they have will seem doable to the general congressional membership, the porkonauts will not beable to pass that off.

        • Andrew Swallow

          43 / 70 = 0.614
          53 / 70 = 0.757

          Even the Mark 2 Falcon Heavy can only lift three quarters of the SLS’s payload. If they are ±50% price compatible they will viable options.

          If they are not price compatible then the SLS people will have to start a project that does not embarrass NASA.

          • Coastal Ron

            Andrew Swallow said:

            Even the Mark 2 Falcon Heavy can only lift three quarters of the SLS’s payload.

            Another way to look at it is that every version of the Falcon Heavy can lift all of the funded payloads for the SLS. In other words, since there are NO payloads for the SLS, then as far as NASA is concerned it really doesn’t matter what the capacity of the Falcon Heavy is.

            • Andrew Swallow

              Time to sell Congress some payloads. My first suggestion is a BA-330-DS spacestation to EML-2. Take the lead back in the space race.

              Then NASA can get on with building lunar landers, lunar habitats, manned rovers and Mars Transfer Vehicles.

              • Dick Eagleson

                Using what for money?

              • Andrew Swallow

                NASA has a development budget. Currently being spent on developing SLS and Orion.

              • Dick Eagleson

                Precisely my point. The SLS-Orion partisans, both within NASA and in Congress, will fight tooth and nail to keep every penny of that money going where they want it to go – and more besides if they can get it. Until and unless SLS and Orion are killed, not a dime of that money is going to be spent on anything actually useful for furthering BEO space missions.

            • Coastal Ron: Another way to look at it is

              A better way to look at it is, if you can launch (let’s be generous to the SLS and say) six of the most expensive version of the SLS for what Boeing charges for one stage, then a 25% difference in the payloads doesn’t matter. You can launch an awful lot of docking and assembly and refueling equipment in the five remaining Falcon Heavy launches after you’ve launched your necessarily lighter payload.

              – Donald

          • Vladislaw

            The price for the Falcon Heavy is 85 million for the 43 ton version without the cross feed. 125 million for 53 tons with the crossfeed.
            The SLS estimates are 1.5 billion. Although Boeing charged NASA 1.4 billion per each core, which doesn’t include the SRB’s the second stage or the standing army at NASA to launch it.

            It would not be 50% cheaper it would more like one magnitude or more cheaper.

        • K Lundermann

          Actually, the lower limit that the Augustine report refers to is not 70 metric tons, 50 (Sec. 5.2.1, p. 65) or 40-60 (Sect. 6.5.3, p. 93).

    • Coastal Ron

      DougSpace said:

      Ron, The rest of Congress voted for the SLS even though there was, at the time, perhaps no payload requiring this capacity.

      The rest of Congress voted for a funding bill that contained many things in it, including the SLS. However there were just a handful of Senators that actually crafted the SLS legislation, so they are the ones we have to look at to interpret their motivations. Those senators were Hutchison, Nelson and Shelby.

      My take is that they wanted to keep open the hardware option for missions beyond the Earth-Moon system or even back to the Moon if future political winds blew that direction.

      We can imprint our own hopes and desires on the actions of others, but that ignores reality. Senator Nelson stated when the bill was signed that the SLS meant jobs would be saved, and none of the senators involved have talked about any grand plans – and certainly none of them have risked their political necks to craft and support any continuous need for the SLS. The only plan that has been proffered is the ARM, and that has been supported by Senator Nelson, but if you’ll notice no one else in Congress has backed it, and instead they have derided it. Not much evidence that anyone wants to do anything big with the SLS.

      In other words, would the successful launch of a FH be sufficient to make the case logically that the SLS is not necessary given the aspirational goals of missions BLEO?

      There are no funded plans that need an HLV today, and it’s unlikely any will show up by next year. So the flight of the Falcon Heavy will, at most, show that the private sector really is up to being relied upon for future space transportation, and that there is no reason not to cancel the SLS. But there won’t be anything for the Falcon Heavy to take over from the SLS, as I think the Orion/MPCV will be cancelled at the same time. Or at least I hope it will be… $16B for a upsized version of an Apollo capsule… how crazy is that?

  • Thanks everyone for responding to my question. That was a very helpful analysis. Especially Vladislaw your point about the first FH probably not using crossfeed is something that I hadn’t considered. Almost noone addressed the issue of the potential of “buddy tanking” meaning a second FH transferring propellant to an earlier-launched FH.

    As for the upper stage, to me this seems like the greatest deficiency of the FH. SpaceX is committed to developing a methane engine. I believe that they have signed an agreement to be able to use Stennis facilities while they develop that. Does anyone know if that Raptor engine could / would be used as an upper stage on a FH and if so, what TLI / TMI payload we might expect?

    Andrew, I personally hope that we don’t build an EML-2 station. That would be an obvious excuse to use the SLS indefinitely (crew rotations) and hence strain NASA’s budget indefinitely thereby hindering alternate paths such as facilitating ULA/Masten-types to develop a low-cost reusable lunar lander, harvest lunar ice, establish a Moon base, develop NTR, or whatever else any of us may wish for a more sustainable space program.

    Finally, would it be conceivable for the government to purchase a FH launch and purchase a Centaur-derived upperstage for it so as to have significant TLI / TMI capability right away?

    • Andrew Swallow

      With Bigelow spacestations at both LEO and EML-2 an upper stage or reusable inspace vehicle will soon be available to move people between them.

      • Vladislaw

        Bigelow Aerospace had some unfunded SAA’s with NASA on that very topic. Here is an article that illustrates Robert Bigelow introducing several inspace vehicles.

        http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/02/affordable-habitats-more-buck-rogers-less-money-bigelow/

        “Bigelow writes in the Gate 1 report that cost reduction of rocket technology has never been addressed by NASA and that the commercial sector can help in this respect.

        “Until recently, the commercial sector has been locked out. All of the usual cost per lb. calculations everyone uses are all based on the wrong production metrics,” Bigelow noted.

        “They are government costs in partnership with parochial contractors with no connection to the real world. Under the right leadership, the costs of habitable systems and transportation can be drastically reduced from what has been the usual American experience.””

        That is the storm that is coming, realistic market pricing with open competition. Once a fierce cargo/fuel market starts in ernest cost for traveling 200 miles is going to start approaching terrestrial costs.

    • Dick Eagleson

      One of the alternative Falcon Heavy upper stage upgrade options would be a single-Raptor-powered unit. It would have both much more thrust and a higher Isp than the current unit shared with Falcon 9 and powered by a single Merlin 1-D Vacuum engine. Two other options would be stretched upper stages powered by either two or three Merlin 1-D Vacuum engines, though these would have lower performance than the Raptor-powered option.

      Adapting a Centaur to FH doesn’t make a lot of sense. The stage has a higher Isp, but thrust counts for something too and Centaur’s RL-10 engine only puts out about 25,000 lbs. Raptor gives both a massive increase in thrust and higher Isp than Merlin 1-D without the very considerable complications of dealing with LH2.

      I don’t know what the lift capacity to LEO or GEO or LTO or MTO of an FH with a Raptor-ized upper stage would be, but I’m confident the first of these would be well above the 70 tonnes claimed for the initial Block 1 version of SLS. It might even be as much or more than the 93 tonnes that SLS Block 1 with the quad-RL-10 Exploration Upper Stage is supposed to be able to manage.

      As others have pointed out, none of these numbers is very significant with respect to actual programs going forward because NASA has had no budget for payloads for SLS so its alleged lift capacity is rather beside the point. With nothing to lift, it’s lift capacity is effectively zero. The only item on the horizon that would require more lift capacity than the Mk1 FH can provide is the Bigelow Olympus hab module. In my opinion, the requirement to launch this module will be the likeliest instigator of development of a Raptor-ized FH upper stage.

      • Vladislaw

        Good points, I recall the press confrence Elon Musk did at the National Press Club when he announced the new Falcon Heavy that was going to replace the Falcon 9 Heavy. (paraphrasing) He hinted to the fact that the Falcon Heavy, if the cross feed worked, would easily go past the 53 tonnes. I assumed it would be from an upgrade to the second stage, which would not be started until the FH was proven and some sales came in.

      • Ben Russell-Gough

        FWIW, If I were Elon Musk, I’d be talking to Mitsubishi about an MB-60-powered alternate high-energy upper stage specifically for cis-Lunar and BEO probe launches. Given the (multi-year, sometimes >1 decade) lead time for such missions, it wouldn’t be a significant schedule risk to have to develop, build, test and integrate such a stage from paper after contract award.

  • E.P. Grondine

    This report looks factual:

    http://thetodayonline.com/when-spacex-falters-washington-looks-the-other-way-2014-08-16/

    It would help if you did not let your cheering drown out your thinking.

  • Andrew Swallow

    An experienced shrill will have inserted the weasel words that make winning a libel case against him almost impossible.

  • Malmesbury

    Those upset with SpaceX do seem to be getting more upset with the day

    Meanwhile, over at nasaspaceflight –

    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/08/cctcapnasa-wont-abandon-commercial-crew-loser/

    Interesting choice of picture in that article…

  • Vladislaw

    Those not liking SpaceX have even more to be mad about .. their valuation is going through the roof and 200 million more investment money came in.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/spacex-valuation-approaches-10-billion-2014-8

  • Malmesbury

    “their valuation is going through the roof and 200 million more investment money came in.”

    That’s their annual employee share sale I reckon – 2% of stock sounds about right.

    The IP to Falcon 9, Falcon 1, Merlin, Kestrel, Draco, Super Draco, Dragon etc is worth that kind of number…. Let alone contracts to launch. So no surprise there, really.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    And, as expected, SLS and MPCV are now officially slipping:

    http://nasawatch.com/archives/2014/08/interesting-sls.html

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>