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NASA Outsources ISS Resupply To SpaceX, Orbital

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the minding-the-gap dept.

NASA 151

DynaSoar writes "NASA has signed two contracts with US commercial space ventures totaling $3.5 billion for resupply of the International Space Station. SpaceX will receive $1.6 billion for 12 flights of SpaceX's planned Dragon spacecraft and their Falcon 9 boosters. $1.9 billion goes to Orbital for eight flights of its Cygnus spacecraft riding its Taurus 2 boosters. Neither of the specified craft has ever flown. However, the proposed vehicles are under construction and based on proven technology, whereas NASA has often contracted with big aerospace companies for services using vehicles not yet even designed."

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obama is gonna be happy (0, Offtopic)

ionix5891 (1228718) | more than 5 years ago | (#26218891)

as the work will stay in the US hopefully creating employment(tho i hope the money doesnt end up in cayman isle accounts)

Re:obama is gonna be happy (3, Insightful)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219229)

It's also a way to save our domestic space program from Nasa's ponderous bureaucracy while simultaneously breathing new life into it through many happy and willing contributors(probably an open source analogy in ere somewhere).

Most importantly, outsourcing our space program to $CHEAP_NATION [huffingtonpost.com] is even more shameful than outsourcing our other jobs!

Re:obama is gonna be happy (0)

mcpkaaos (449561) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219299)

1c1
< It's also a way to save our domestic space program from Nasa's ponderous bureaucracy while simultaneously breathing new life into it through many happy and willing contributors(probably an open source analogy in ere somewhere).
---
> It's also a way to save our domestic space program from Nasa's ponderous bureaucracy while simultaneously breathing new life into it through many happy and willing contributors(probably an open source analogy in here somewhere).

Re:obama is gonna be happy (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26219399)

s/ere/here idiot. Must be a COBOL programmer.

Re:obama is gonna be happy (1)

Xaoswolf (524554) | more than 5 years ago | (#26222585)

1. Plan future spacecraft

2. Start building

3. Sign with NASA

4. ???

5. Profit!

wait...

There is no step four, just sign the billion dollar contracts and hope that they don't notice that they prototype is made out of cardboard before your private jet takes off...

Re:obama is gonna be happy (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 5 years ago | (#26223519)

There is no step four, just sign the billion dollar contracts and hope that they don't notice that they prototype is made out of cardboard before your private jet takes off.

That seems to be pretty much true for Orbital Systems, since their "launch vehicle" is in "the early stages of development".

SpaceX at least HAS a launch vehicle. Sitting on the pad (figuratively) at Canaveral for launch early next year. Whether it'll work is another question, of course, though all the components were basically tested with the Falcon 1 launches over the last couple years.

The genius of outsourcing... (1)

letchhausen (95030) | more than 5 years ago | (#26218899)

Up up and uh ooops.....

Re:The genius of outsourcing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26218945)

it's just a simple anomaly.

Problems (5, Interesting)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26218943)

Things like this is exactly why people are questioning our space program, we just seem to do things just to say we can. What really needs to happen is that taxpayers fund government research which releases *all* findings/blueprints/formulas/source/etc to the public (minus *real* national security issues, such nuclear weapons). Private businesses (such as Virgin Galactic and SpaceX) then can take the information and adapt them to create things thereby reducing taxpayer load. Our current system of hiding anything and everything under the guise of "national security" is what is making our space program fail, and outsourcing things to private companies does nothing to benefit the public.

Re:Problems (5, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26218991)

The world isn't a simple as you make it out to be. Patents and copyrights lock things up, but trade secrets lock them up even more. Government intervention to make people act against their own interests is a never ending spiral. There's no way to mandate that people do good science. It's interesting that you mention national security. Current legislation basically makes good science and engineering in rocketry illegal.. cause any improvement to a rocket is an improvement to the death count of a potential weapon using that rocket. I, personally, care more about the progress of rocketry than I care about the number of potential lives lost in a potential war fought with potential rocket-based weapons in the potential future, but other people think differently.

Re:Problems (4, Interesting)

davolfman (1245316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219017)

Anything made under government contract for its design should logically be considered "work for hire" and be public domain by default. That's the assertion I'm going to make.

Re:Problems (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219069)

I know this is a common US principle that is largely ignored in practice, but it's not at all common in the rest of the world. I think it's a good idea.. but, frankly, it's totally irrelevant for rocketry as the governments of the world have decided that rocketry is just too damn awesome for making weapons to be freely able to be published.

Re:Problems (2, Insightful)

ckaminski (82854) | more than 5 years ago | (#26223003)

Okay, general rule, one that the Soviet's learned the hard way. Making rockets is easy. Making GOOD rockets is a little ->. harder. Making rockets that can hurl a thousand pounds to a pin-point target 1000 miles away is damn near impossible without a huge, developed and modern industrial base. And if you have that, odds are your populace is happy living like fat cats, you've got money coming out your asses, and you're not stupid enough to bomb a country with more nuclear weapons than God.

So there's really no reason to keep rocketry secret, because making rockets -> ISN'T HARD. And GPS pretty much screwed the pooch for everyone. Keep your rocket under 600 mph, and you can use nearly any off-the-shelf receiver to guide your rocket-bomb within 10m of it's target.

Then again, it just occurred to me what Kim Jong Il would do with Atlas V plans... so maybe I am a pie in the sky idiot...

Re:Problems (1)

danwesnor (896499) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219257)

Any new work done with government funding is, in fact, owned by the government. But if that work is not totally new, but is instead derived from inventions or designed under the companies funds, that part funded by the company cannot be compelled to be released to the government or any other party. It is up to the government to make work they own public domain. Obviously, they're not going to release ICBM designs on the internet, but they do give designs they own to other companies to replicate or improve on.

Re:Problems (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219685)

The problem with that is that there are plenty of cases where a company would like to modify an existing design to meet the government contract. Fewer in aerospace than elsewhere perhaps, but they're still present. Do you require them to open up the whole thing? If so, that means you're likely to get charged more. If not, drawing the line of what gets opened and what doesn't is somewhere between very difficult and impossible (read: expensive). I don't completely disagree with you, but the position does have its problems.

Re:Problems (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219343)

any improvement to a rocket is an improvement to the death count of a potential weapon using that rocket.

Maybe not. A friend of mine spend a few weeks, long ago, studying the characteristics of various US ICBMs to see if they were usable as orbital launch vehicles. It didn't take him long to learn that they weren't, partially because none of them had adequate delta-V. I'd be the last person to claim that we've reached a dead end in the development of guided or ballistic missiles, but I don't think that the latest orbital advances are needed for that, either.

Re:Problems (1)

ckaminski (82854) | more than 5 years ago | (#26223089)

Some Peacekeeper missiles were retasked to satellite launch, so your friend is mistaken.

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=12225

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/LGM-118A_Peacekeeper
[quote]
The rockets are being converted to a satellite launcher role by Orbital SciencesOrbital Sciences Corporation, as the OSP-2 Minotaur IV SLVMinotaur (rocket), while their warheads will be deployed on the existing Minuteman III missiles.
[/quote]

Science (4, Interesting)

copponex (13876) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219509)

Please provide us with the most recent scientific breakthrough not carried out by a government funded lab or subsidized university.

Don't worry. We'll wait.

You see, no corporation does anything beyond what's sensible to make a profit. And often that thing is actually detrimental to society without proper regulation, dependent on your definition of progress, and no company could survive the lawsuits if they focused on pure R&D instead of R&D designed to deliver a product for sale. Imagine a company formed for fusion reactor research, promising little to no chance of return for billions of dollars of investment. It wouldn't get off the ground, and would be the laughingstock of wall street. In this case, they are refining rocket technology, not inventing it.

Good science only happens when you throw huge amounts of money into pure research. Engineering happens trying to solve problems, but not advances in science. The government doesn't force people to research anything, but it does give out wads of cash for things it wants, like the technology found in Predator drones. This is because problems are now extraordinarily complicated and require huge investments to be solved. That's not to say there aren't rare exceptions... and definitely not to say that agencies like NASA aren't in need of serious restructuring. But for the most part, it's government funded research that provides modern technology.

Also, you're totally wrong about homeland security. It's funded billions of dollars for advanced aerospace research, but to large corporations instead of backyard enthusiasts.

Re:Science (1, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219611)

We were talking about engineering, but ok.

IBM does more basic science than any other company in the world.. outside Japan. They're also better financed and have institutional knowledge that exceeds most universities by light years. As for government labs, they're good for nuclear research and that's about it.

Re:Science (3, Insightful)

ppanon (16583) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220527)

Yeah you're clearly right. All that work done by the CDC and the NIH never amount to anything..

Re:Science (0, Troll)

ThreeE (786934) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220849)

It's not that the work isn't worth anything, it's that it costs too much when done by the govt. By your definition, if I spend $10M to build a hammer, I got a great deal -- after all, look! We got a hammer!

Re:Science (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26221635)

Except sometimes only the Government has the cash to "waste" on things that don't have an immediate commercial application. Little things like the Arpanet, for example.

Re:Science (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 5 years ago | (#26222405)

Medicine. Computers. And space technology to name something relevant to the topic. Sure, the government spends money in these areas. But they aren't making the breakthroughs.

Re:Science (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26223427)

Please provide us with the most recent scientific breakthrough not carried out by a government funded lab or subsidized university.

How about Microsoft Research [microsoft.com] ?

While I'm a major critic of Microsoft as a company, some of their basic research activities are simply amazing and certainly aren't done through government subsidies.

Microsoft certainly isn't alone here, and private R&D does happen by forward thinking individuals and companies. IBM is another company who has done some incredible pure research into material science and nano-technology.

Yes, I understand that the government is a major player in scientific research, but it doesn't have to be the only game in town. Certainly relying on only the government to come up with new ideas is a horrible approach for society, and incredibly wasteful of economic resources.

Also, what needs the government has for scientific research are not necessarily things that are needed by ordinary people, for businesses, or even society as a whole. Is there a role for government-sponsored research? Yes! But it isn't the only nor should it be the only possible place for science to be advanced.

BTW, the old AT&T Bell Labs [wikipedia.org] came up with a host of original and innovative scientific advancements.... all coming from non-government dollars. What is left now is a shadow of what it used to be, however this is a direct result of government interference in the company and not as a result of a lack of interest in basic research. Just look at the wiki article about Bell Labs and you can find hundreds of scientific break throughs that came from this non-government sources.

Re:Problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26220217)

you might want to ask the palestinians about their rocket potential before you go open-sourcing it.

Re:Problems (0, Offtopic)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220655)

You know what? I hope the palestinians develop highly advanced sciences of every type tomorrow. Science brings freedom of information and freedom from bias, and freedom of information with freedom from bias trumps bigotry.

Re:Problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26220743)

You forgot to mention something about freedom.

Re:Problems (1, Insightful)

virtue3 (888450) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219035)

What really needs to happen is that taxpayers fund government research which releases *all* findings/blueprints/formulas/source/etc to the public (minus *real* national security issues, such nuclear weapons).

You are completely and utterly out of your mind if you think we should be letting out all of our rocket technology to the public.

Absolutely insane.

The only thing keeping us from getting "missiled" at this point is that few countries have the ICBM technology to hit us. Which is why we're developing these "missile shields" (which sometimes work... the patriot missle defence is more or less useless at this point against modern missiles).

Giving other countries access to our space shuttle tech (aside from the iron state memory and whatever else is inside the shuttle is pretty much useless), I'm sure they could use at least the engine to design a better missile.

Some of this stuff needs to be kept safeish right now.

On a side note, lots of companies make a lot of money and jobs by being given these contracts and they usually do it more efficiently than the government can so I'm all in favor of it (I'm not saying they're perfect, I've heard enough stories of the government contract jobs that it really pisses me off when I pay taxes...)

Re:Problems (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219089)

The only thing keeping us from getting "missiled" at this point is that few countries have the ICBM technology to hit us. Which is why we're developing these "missile shields" (which sometimes work... the patriot missle defence is more or less useless at this point against modern missiles).

There are more reasons than just the lack of technology. If a country would ever attack the US in an organized strike (invasion, missiles, bombing raids, etc) we would nuke them and they know that. Also would be the lack of precession and rarity of materials needed to make ICBM, many developing countries can simply not spend that amount of money needed to make a single ICBM nor effectively deploy them. Honestly, nuclear war is, despite possible, considered to be useless by most countries as it would accomplish nothing.

Re:Problems (0)

virtue3 (888450) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219109)

Yes, but there is nothing stopping them from swiping the plans for the rocket boosters and developing a few payload systems that could easily hit US shores with a dirty/chemical warhead.

Technically, this would not result in massive retaliation. Technically, as we weren't nuked, but I have no idea how governments would react to this kind of attack. And frankly, if it was a terrorist/extremist group it would be just as bad I guess.

Either way, I'd really prefer it if our rocketry sciences weren't put into public domain. (Although, yes, the ingredients are one of the hardest parts... as I believe the rocket fuel for NASA was published at some point and people COULD make it if they improvised on some of the ingredients and it would do some pretty awesome stuff).

Re:Problems (4, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219153)

Yes, but there is nothing stopping them from swiping the plans for the rocket boosters and developing a few payload systems that could easily hit US shores with a dirty/chemical warhead. Technically, this would not result in massive retaliation. Technically, as we weren't nuked, but I have no idea how governments would react to this kind of attack. And frankly, if it was a terrorist/extremist group it would be just as bad I guess.

Just look at Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks, minor attacks that launched major offensive strikes by the USA. And, a terrorist group with an ICBM? I doubt that would ever happen, about the closest would be North Korea but as far as we know they only have slightly long range misses, not ICBMs, and because North Korea is so poor, I doubt they would have the capability to build one especially with international pressure along with resource constraints. The main threat is a nuclear device by a terrorist/extremist group, something more akin to a "suitcase nuke" than a full ICBM.

Either way, I'd really prefer it if our rocketry sciences weren't put into public domain

...But honestly, there is no accountability. Why should I pay taxes just for some pretty pictures of a distant galaxy? Why should I have to pay in part for a billion dollar exploration mission to Pluto? If the findings of both the scientific and rocketry aspects aren't put in the public domain, then its no better than paying for the president to have a billion dollar dinner, either way, no one but the government benefits from it. And really, that is the public sentiment about space exploration in 2008.

Re:Problems (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219599)

I doubt that would ever happen, about the closest would be North Korea but as far as we know they only have slightly long range misses, not ICBMs, and because North Korea is so poor, I doubt they would have the capability to build one especially with international pressure along with resource constraints.

North Korea is pretty well understood to have a good source of money [heritage.org] .

Why should I have to pay in part for a billion dollar exploration mission to Pluto?

Look, not everybody has a problem with the space program. Some of us are quite fond of it, even if all we see are pictures. The hairless ape is a curious beast, forever poking his nose into things. If you don't like Nasa, that's fine, but there are better things in the budget to cut. Certainly hiring these American companies to do this is better than continuing to hire Russia. Rumor has it Russia's commitment to international cooperation in space and other things might not be permanent.

Re:Problems (0)

x2A (858210) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219635)

"something more akin to a "suitcase nuke" than a full ICBM"

A snuke?! Better start investing more in sniffer pigs!

Re:Problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26219663)

No attack that instigates a major offensive is a minor attack. Your problem is that you're measuring "minor" by a 2008 standard bodycount.

Re:Problems (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219997)

You pay your taxes because if you don't they'll kill/imprison you. Stop deluding yourself and be thankful you get "some pretty pictures of a distant galaxy" out of it.

what there is a law ? (1)

cheekyboy (598084) | more than 5 years ago | (#26222661)

Its funny how there is now written law to say that you have to pay taxes (people asked judges to confirm this) and there has been no provided proof by the IRS.

Yet, the threat of FBI and SWAT teams does nicely to co-erce people into paying. Even if those authorities know it to be false, they know that without taxes, their jobs are dead.

Its just like North Korea, the only reason the populace wont revolt, is that most of it 'works' for the state, thus getting benefits such as education, and food.

Ironically, none of the populations of USA's income taxes are used for ANY thing beneficial, ie... its all paid into interest rate debt payments to banks. Its the other indirect taxes and corporate taxes that fund the govts activities.

Bottom line, income taxes arent needed. Its a falacy.

Re:Problems (2, Insightful)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220019)

Just look at Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks, minor attacks that launched major offensive strikes by the USA.

At Pearl Harbor, the Japanese damaged twenty three American ships, three of them unrepairable. Two of the ships lost were battleships. They were the only American battleships sunk during WW II. I don't call that a minor attack, I call it a major defeat!

Re:Problems (2, Informative)

ppanon (16583) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220697)

The development of the aircraft carrier had made those battleships obsolete. The aircraft carriers were much more effective in force projection. I believe that modern navies don't have anything bigger than a cruiser because they're just too much of an indefensible target for modern missiles, and that became true with the advent of the torpedo bomber. You're better off with the same tonnage in a lot more smaller ships. Some say there's a good reason why the US aircraft carriers were out on manoeuvres and the battleships weren't.

Re:Problems (2, Insightful)

ckaminski (82854) | more than 5 years ago | (#26223253)

Yea, but the world didn't figure that out until the battle of Midway and the unrestricted ASW performed against German subs in the Atlantic. When Pearl happened, the US was still building BBs.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_battleships_of_the_United_States_Navy#Mid_to_late_1900s
The last ship, Wisconsin (BB-64), commissioned in 1944 (Wisconsin was approved last; however, Missouri commissioned 3 months later, due to delays from additional aircraft carrier construction)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor
Because both Japanese and American strategic thinking and doctrine was derived from the work of Captain Alfred Mahan,[27] which held battleships were decisive in naval warfare,[28] it was also a means of striking at the fighting power of the Pacific Fleet;

Re:Problems (1)

ckaminski (82854) | more than 5 years ago | (#26223121)

Not just ingredients, but materials science. The shuttle parts are on the BLEEDING edge of technology, no matter how decrepit we think the whole STS is. The turbopumps in the SSME alone are some of the most amazing things to ever be invented. That's not technology you can easily build from scratch in some desert.

Re:Problems (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219097)

And what makes you think this (releasing) isn't done? (Not to mention your comment is a complete non sequitur.)

Re:Problems (4, Informative)

DrBuzzo (913503) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219179)

The vast majority of information which is related to space systems is publicly avaliable. Only some relatively minor stuff relating to surveillance and military satellites and other stuff which is truly national-security related is kept from the public. (It's not that unreasonable - you really don't want the exact capabilities of your military communications capabilities out there or the security is compromised and likewise spy satellites).

The Space Shuttle is almost entirely open. NASA even has many of the documents on the web. The ones that aren't can be found from the National Archives or similar repositories.

All the major systems on the rockets like the Saturn family are avaliable. (And no, they didn't lose the blueprints). If you want to know about an F-1 Engine or a JX-2 or the heat shield on an Apollo capsule or the control systems on the shuttle, it's all out there.

Most of the stuff has not actually changed that much. Yes, the avionics and communications and control systems are better, but the RCS on the shuttle is 30 years old and derived directly from Apollo

Of course, some of the components are patent protected. This is becasue they were not produced by NASA but by various companies on contract. Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, Rocketdyne.

of course, patents don't last forever and many of the items are past patent expiration. Also, a patent is for a given design or mechanism but does not necessarily stop you from coming out with a knockoff in the same general idea.

If you want to know why the situation with space flight is so slow and the private ventures are only now getting to the point of being able to fly on their own, the answer is simple: Space flight is really really freakin difficult.

Re:Problems (1)

EODisFUN (1437955) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219249)

Although I'm with you one this, the State Department is not. ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulation) frequently withholds a lot of detailed technical information including things as innocuous as lithium-ion battery technology from foreign hands. The inanity of this bill is only matched by the sheer loss in funds American companies have lost to foreign competitors who have had now built a large technical library and talent pool getting around these asinine regulations.

Re:Problems (1)

danwesnor (896499) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219223)

It's not national security, it's corporate information developed under IRD that prevents the info from going public. The government cannot compel any organization to release privately owned information to it's competitors (except in cases of national security). However, if SpaceX would like to pay Orbital to teach them how to build a missile that works the first time, I'm sure Orbital would love to help out. And outsourcing to private companies does help by reducing the cost of space launch to other US companies that need to put satellites up.

Re:Problems (1)

rmcclelland (1383541) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219287)

It would be great if NASA would make all it's documents publicly available. I work in the industry and it would make my job easier. However, most of NASAs technology is publicly available through publications. Anytime they come up with something novel, it gets into a conference or journal. Between conference proceedings, journals, and textbooks, almost every technology NASA uses is publicly available. From the very beginning of a project NASA programs have to have a 'technology transfer plan' to get any new tech to industry. They even put out an annual book on new NASA technologies and other uses for them. Compare this to the military space program which has double the annual budget and gives the public nothing back but wrong intelligence.

Re:Problems (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219333)

Things like this is exactly why people are questioning our space program

And those questions are only very, very recently becoming valid.
If you remove Lockheed/Boeing/GD/Northrup (the commercial arm of NASA), there has not been a viable commercial launch capability until maybe 2 yrs ago. Those major players would never have done it without NASA, and NASA never had the actual factories to build it. Hence the synergistic relationship.
All the new players (Virgin, SpaceX, etc) are building off all the tech, info, designs, and risk of NASA and the aforementioned major players.

And 'real national security issues' are not only the warheads, but also the guidance and delivery systems.

Re:Problems (1)

x2A (858210) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219697)

Riiiight... because no scientist would ever take a taxi to their lab, or call out for a pizza?

Re:Problems (1)

cyn1c77 (928549) | more than 5 years ago | (#26221109)

Let me fix that for you:

Private businesses, North Korea, Iran, and other rogue nations then can take the information and adapt them to create nuclear or conventional warhead delivery systems that can reach anywhere in the world in 30 minutes...

2016? In Obama's Term. (3, Insightful)

perlhacker14 (1056902) | more than 5 years ago | (#26218965)

The article states that the contracts are valid through 2016. But, will this last when Obama comes in to office, with the expected cuts? I do realize that this is important for the future functions, but is it the biggest priority for the new president?

Re:2016? In Obama's Term. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26219273)

But, will this last when Obama comes in to office, with the expected cuts?

Oh dear lord yes.

I stopped posted to space & spaceflight related threads on Slashdot years ago, because damned near all of the people posting are clueless. (Even most of you who think you have a clue. Really.) Trying to correct (or even read) so many screwed up posts is agonizing.

But, this is important, so let's be very clear about this: COTS and these Commercial Resupply Services contracts are critical first steps on the "new path" for American spaceflight. The members of Obama's NASA transition team are very aware of this. Regardless of whatever other elements of our human spaceflight program get discarded, this is likely to remain intact.

This is the first glimpse at the future, people. Try to grok it. If you can, you may come to understand how some of us intend to settle the solar system.

Re:2016? In Obama's Term. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26219443)

I stopped posted to space

I stopped posting, even. Damn, I need a whack with my own cluestick.

Re:2016? In Obama's Term. (1)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219471)

I miss sci.space.tech!

Re:2016? In Obama's Term. (1)

phayes (202222) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220073)

yeah, me too. If you look at my friends you might recognize a dame or two like derek lyons...

Re:2016? In Obama's Term. (1)

lwiniarski (105158) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219743)

This is the first glimpse at the future, people. Try to grok it. If you can, you may come to understand how some of us intend to settle the solar system.

Settling the solar system makes about as much sense as building Condos at the bottom of the ocean under the North Pole.

In case you haven't noticed...we pretty much have the best planet and we are slowly screwing it up, with apathy and ridiculous pipe dreams like moving to Titan.

Re:2016? In Obama's Term. (1)

x2A (858210) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219737)

These actually sound exactly like the kinds of things he'd go for. Slashing launch/supply costs, improving the domestic commercial space sector, not just shipping it all out to russia? I'm sure he'd see that as a win/win/win.

why not contract with the russians? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26218993)

i mean, their technology is proven, is known to work and they can "do it" for cheap. why in ${deity}'s name did nasa sign a contract to use unproven, never used equipment operated by an unproven staff?

or why not go with arianespace if usa right-wingers get sick at the idea of paying the russian?

personally, i smell some sort of ... 'money pit' (is this the right expression?), some misplaced favoritism or even some political dogmatism instead of a will to 'get things done despite a limited budget' mentality.

Re:why not contract with the russians? (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26218999)

Because using american tax dollars to pay russian salaries isn't good economic sense.

Duh.

Re:why not contract with the russians? (1)

mark_hill97 (897586) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219057)

Because it is a good way to help with the space tourism industry. Begin financing industries trying to monetize space and we may have a whole new industry spring up (with all the associated jobs!)

Re:why not contract with the russians? (5, Insightful)

TimSSG (1068536) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219139)

I think it is an issue of redundancy; to have the ISS just depending on the Russians would be an issue. Now, I think they could have looked to the "arianespace", but I think Buy American is back into the default way the US Government does things. Tim S

Re:why not contract with the russians? (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219385)

why in ${deity}'s name did nasa sign a contract to use unproven, never used equipment operated by an unproven staff?

Well...lets see:
Mercury-earth orbit - totally unproven, until someone did it.
Gemini-2 man, docking with another craft in orbit - totally unproven, until someone did it.
Apollo-Landing on the moon and coming back - totally unproven, until someone did it.

Do we want to stick with the old, (semi)safe stuff, or do we want to bring some new minds and technologies on board?

New Possibilities (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26219151)

In theory this is not much different than contracting rocket engines to Thiokol or communication systems to Motorola. In practice however this might prove to be a boon to NASA. Not only does it allow for the centralization of specific projects under one roof, it allows commercial companies to organize entire projects instead of merely building ships - I'm of the opinion private industry can organize and meet specific goals better than the government. With that NASA can allow private competition for public funds to improve space transportation systems; and therefore serve as the arbiter of their performance. On top of that NASA can further focus on its most important job: conducting experiments in space and preparing for manned missions to the Moon and beyond (if it ever does become feasible).

Hell of a deal (4, Informative)

tripmine (1160123) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219185)

$1.6 billion for 12 flights of SpaceX's planned Dragon spacecraft and their Falcon 9 boosters. $1.9 billion

Compared to the shuttle, it's a pretty damn good deal.

Re:Hell of a deal (3, Insightful)

gregbot9000 (1293772) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219415)

NASA said it was looking for each selected team to deliver a minimum of 20 metric tons to the space station over the seven-year life of the contract

At $1.6B for 20 metric tones per contract thats about $36,287 per pound. So it's actually a good deal if you take the worst cost estimate of the Shuttle running $40,000 a pound. And that the company only does the bare minimum. for the twelve launches for the Falcon 9 at $1.6B that comes out to $133M.

Re:Hell of a deal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26220029)

the space shuttle cost is $10 BILLION/LB not $40,000. cuz it will cost $10B for a replacement. the shuttle used to cost $40,000/lb before it was scrapped, just as ther saturn V used to cost $10,000/lb.

Re:Hell of a deal (5, Informative)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220175)

Not bad considering it costs $450 million per shuttle launch.

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/about/information/shuttle_faq.html [nasa.gov]

Q. How much does it cost to launch a Space Shuttle?

A. The average cost to launch a Space Shuttle is about $450 million per mission.

Re:Hell of a deal (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220369)

It works out to an even better deal if you realize that SpaceX is not just pocketing the money, but is channeling a considerable fraction of it back into their own internal R&D programs. Their intention is to get the Falcon9 and Dragon man-rated. The published development schedule appears to be fairly agressive. In some respects, I believe they are further along than the Ares 1 and Orion CEV programs are. Imagine a COTS program comprised of crew transport to and from the ISS or LEO.

Re:Hell of a deal (3, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220691)

Their intention is to get the Falcon9 and Dragon man-rated. The published development schedule appears to be fairly agressive. In some respects, I believe they are further along than the Ares 1 and Orion CEV programs are. Imagine a COTS program comprised of crew transport to and from the ISS or LEO.

Obama's space transition team seems to be imagining this as well:

http://www.space.com/news/081202-obama-space-spending.html [space.com]

The transition team also wants information from NASA about accelerating plans for using the agency's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to fund demonstrations of vehicles capable of carrying crews to the international space station, a proposal Obama supported during his campaign.

Re:Hell of a deal (2, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220111)

Compared to the shuttle, it's a pretty damn good deal.

Just to elaborate on that... a Space Shuttle [wikipedia.org] has a payload to orbit of 24,400kg. The shuttle costs $500-$1,500 million per flight (depending on how you tabulate it). SpaceX's Falcon 9 Heavy [wikipedia.org] has a payload to orbit of 27,500kg. The commercial price per flight is $90 million; under the current contract SpaceX is charging a fixed price of $133 million per flight, which presumably is higher due to the cost of the Dragon capsule [wikipedia.org] and development fees.

That makes SpaceX's price for delivery to the space station 4x-11x cheaper than the Shuttle's. With this sharp cost reduction, NASA will be hopefully be able to get much more exploration and research done on their limited budget.

Re:Hell of a deal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26220241)

Dragon isn't flying on a Falcon 9 Heavy--they're using a standard Falcon 9. Between pressurized and unpressurized volumes, Dragon can bring 6000 kg of cargo.

Re:Hell of a deal (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220659)

Thanks for pointing that out. I wonder if SpaceX has the option to fly a Falcon 9 Heavy instead of a normal Falcon 9 if they wish to, because of the better cost-efficiency. With a Falcon 9 Heavy they could lift up the prearranged NASA payload, while also selling the excess payload mass to make additional money.

Re:Fat Chance (1)

mark99 (459508) | more than 5 years ago | (#26222607)

I imagine that when NASA launches a Falcon 9, they will manage to spend hundreds of millions on themselves somehow as well (you know, planning it, managing it, quality control, etc). Fixed and sunk costs that are now considered to be in the Space Shuttle launch, but will now be transfered to SpaceX and Oribital Sciences.

In fact if I know my NASA, I bet in the end they will somehow make these launches even more expensive than the Shuttle is/was, especially with the economic downturn conveniently justifying practically any expenditure.

And no, sadly I am not making a joke.

Re:Hell of a deal (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26222459)

Compared to the shuttle, it's a pretty damn good deal.

Only if you make the most simplistic of comparisons. The Shuttle's cargo capacity is 24k kg, while the Falcon 9's total capacity is 27k kg. Which means the amount delivered by Falcon will less than you think because you haven't accounted for the cargo delivery vehicle. For reference (dry weights), Progress weighs 7k kg, HTV weighs about 10k kg, ATV comes in at a whopping 20k kg. (Which means even the simplest existing delivery vehicle eats just over a quarter of your raw capacity, not to mention you have to account for it's cost as well.)
 
When you compare the Dragon to Shuttle, the numbers again aren't pretty - Dragon can deliver 7 people and 2.5k kg of cargo, while Shuttle delivers 7 people and 24k kg of cargo.
 
Not to mention that Dragon cannot support spacewalks, and Falcon (or Falcon+Dragon) cannot deliver or return ISS racks.

[Rant]
I get dammed tired of people comparing spacecraft just on cost or raw payload weight. You don't buy computers, cars, or practically anything else without comparing features - why do people fail to do so when it comes to spacecraft?
[/Rant]

Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26219307)

So...now we use public taxpayer money to develop a private space fleet to service a giant white public relations elephant in the sky. Probably soon to become a thrill ride for billionaires.

I'm so happy our country is quickly becoming the 3rd world. Why don't we privatize our armed forces next..

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219329)

Why don't we privatize our armed forces next..

Hehe, you don't read the paper much do you? There's a whole lot of contracted "security" firms in Iraq right now being paid by the US government. You might remember some of them were running a prison.. you might remember the atrocities. Ya.

Anyway, space tourism will pay for itself.. give it time.

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (1)

lwiniarski (105158) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219459)

Nope..it won't. Using tax payer money to subsidize some sort of cosmic carnival ride with no public benefit is a joke. It's not the kind of jobs the world needs...unless you perhaps you think we ought to go back to building pyramids or something

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219505)

Umm.. about the only people who are doing space tourism is the russians.. and they are doing it to subsidize their national space program. Maybe soon we'll see Virgin Galactic doing some suborbital space tourism.. and that's being done without a nickle of tax payer funds. So, what, exactly, are you on about?

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (1)

lwiniarski (105158) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219929)

Name "One" important science discovery from the ISS.

It's a joke. It's a zillion times cheaper to do research on earth. Putting people into space for no other reason than putting people into space is a little silly. We've proven it can be done 40 years ago, but created this stupid idea that we need to keep doing it...at tremendous expense..for pretty much no other reason than National Pride. That's why it's like the Pyramids. Making it bigger is criminally idiotic. Unfortunately, it's probably gonna take another few generations until the mankind figures this out.

Our biggest problem for the planet is our population. Not putting 5 or 6 people into orbit so they can go on speaking tours and write a book.

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219979)

I'm trying desperately to see a coherent argument here. Are you complaining that your tax dollars are being squandered.. cause, ya know, that's what governments do. If you're pissed at the cost of ISS, maybe you shouldn't take a look at the national budget any time soon. If you're all about scientific research, maybe you shouldn't look at the kind of research the NSF chooses to fund. I'm still trying to understand what any of this has to do with space tourism. Or are you basically saying that people shouldn't be free to pursue goals that you consider stupid?

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (1)

lwiniarski (105158) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220311)

I guess I see the ISS as being a big floating resort in the sky....and not much else

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220373)

Then you're one up on the politicians. The justification for the ISS was that it would keep Russian engineers busy making peaceful space stations rather than working on missile technology which they would most likely be selling to Iran and other nations that the US considers likely to result in destabilization of the middle east.. which is where all the oil is.. which is an important resource.. I don't know how much depth I need to get into here, you seem pretty naive. If the ISS can serve some sort of useful function beyond that, then yah, we're ahead of the game. Compared to the price of fighting a war with Russia, a few billion dropped on "science" and "international co-operation" is chump change. Or did you think space exploration was a national priority or something?

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (1)

OrbitalDude (1438305) | more than 5 years ago | (#26222771)

I suppose that it depends on your opinion of the importance of prolonged human presence in space... Namely the Moon. I'm only guessing, but I would venture to guess that there will be permanent bases (maybe military) on the Moon within the next 50 years. Much bio research has been done on the ISS that will support extended stays on the Moon (or in microgravity in general).

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (2, Insightful)

x2A (858210) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219791)

What?!! You think building pyramids will get people to space?

When you say "no public benefit", I think you forgot to finish the sentence properly, you missed out the "that I know of" bit. It's a very narrow mind that assumes nothing exists beyond it's own knowledge. I would say that kind of mind doesn't serve the public one bit, but thinking about it, I've been to macdonalds.

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (1)

lwiniarski (105158) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220119)

It's a very narrow mind that assumes nothing exists beyond it's own knowledge. I would say that kind of mind doesn't serve the public one bit

The problem with that argument is you can use it to justify anything. At some point you need to exercise that thing between your ears.

Einstein did his work with a few books and paper and pencil, and we haven't gotten to the bottom of that in over 100 years. NASA uses billions of dollars to launch Paper Airplanes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origami_airplane_launched_from_space [wikipedia.org]

If you refuse to question anything NASA does, then you'll get just what you deserve.... 10 billion dollars to burn up a bunch of Paper Airplanes.

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26219543)

the only atrocity that happened there was that those islamic fags are still alive. every muslim should be killed for being a lying thieving bitch.

Re:Great...Now Tax Payers developing Space Tourism (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220699)

Wow, next think you know we might be using public taxpayer money to buy privately-built cars and seats on commercially-operated airliners for transporting government personnel!

The big deal here: launch costs getting cut in 1/2 (5, Interesting)

rmcclelland (1383541) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219321)

Supporting SpaceX/Orbital in this endeavour could be a game changer for the whole space industry. SpaceX is charging half of going rate for launches. Once they get flying regularly, NASA and commercial projects will be able to spend more on satellites and less on launching which means more spacecraft, science, and bandwidth.

Re:The big deal here: launch costs getting cut in (3, Interesting)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219441)

Boeing/Lockheed/Thiokol initially only charged 1/2 the final rate too. What will the actual bill from SpaceX be, once they can suck at the govt's teat?

Re:The big deal here: launch costs getting cut in (5, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219885)

Boeing/Lockheed/Thiokol initially only charged 1/2 the final rate too. What will the actual bill from SpaceX be, once they can suck at the govt's teat?

One big difference is that Boeing/Lockheed/Thiokol have cost-plus contracts, where if you increase the final bill you make more money. SpaceX and Orbital have fixed-price contracts, where if SpaceX or Orbital's cost estimates are too low, the companies eat the extra cost; on the other hand, if the companies figure out ways to do things more efficiently, they get more of a profit. Doing space launches under this sort of arrangement is almost unprecedented for NASA, and hopefully something we'll see much more of in the future.

Re:The big deal here: launch costs getting cut in (2, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220353)

One big difference is that Boeing/Lockheed/Thiokol have cost-plus contracts, where if you increase the final bill you make more money

They could mandate those contracts, because they could. They were already big players. SpaceX and Orbital aren't. Yet.
Their costs will go up to meet the inevitable requirement creep, and so will the final bill.

We need more players in the game. But let's not delude ourselves that the new kids will be that much better/cheaper, while retaining the same performance & safety factors.
Space ops is expensive.

Re:The big deal here: launch costs getting cut in (2, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220529)

Their costs will go up to meet the inevitable requirement creep, and so will the final bill.

I think you may be missing something here... as I mentioned in my comment, this is a fixed-price contract, not a cost-plus contract. The requirements (deliver a certain quantity of tonnage to orbit) are already set, and the final price is already set. SpaceX and Orbital get money as they reach contracted development milestones and make actual cargo deliveries. If their costs go up, they either eat the cost and make less of a profit, or they don't make any more money at all.

But let's not delude ourselves that the new kids will be that much better/cheaper, while retaining the same performance & safety factors.

This is an interesting belief. Do you have any support for it? Do you disagree with NASA's readiness evaluation that SpaceX and Orbital are capable of doing this? Also, why does performance inherently matter, rather than cost/kg? And how much of a factor is safety on a cargo ship?

Space ops is expensive.

Actually, current space ops is really absurdly expensive. Companies like SpaceX are trying to make the cost simply expensive.

Re:The big deal here: launch costs getting cut in (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220973)

We need more players in the game. But let's not delude ourselves that the new kids will be that much better/cheaper, while retaining the same performance & safety factors. Space ops is expensive.

Perhaps you should learn what's actually going on first. We have two bits of information. First, development of the current SpaceX vehicles on what is a paltry amount for space development, a mere few hundred million. Orbital too has a history of cheap development costs with the Pegasus and related launch vehicles. Second, these companies accept a more difficult type of contract than the typical cost plus contracts. I consider this a significant demonstration of intent. Cost plus means you pay the company in question to drive costs up as much as you will let them. High cost is a natural consequence.

Re:The big deal here: launch costs getting cut in (2, Informative)

OrbitalDude (1438305) | more than 5 years ago | (#26222655)

Agree! Those costs don't include NASA's incredible infrastructure costs. Orbital and SpaceX have to create and pay for their own infrastructure (launch site and data communications). All they get is some real estate on a launch campus. In general, seems most folks in this thread have never worked on rockets or spacecraft. It really IS rocket science and it really IS hard... and it really IS very expensive. The hardest part about CRS is the business model... matching the loft capabilities of a brand new rocket (Orbital's Taurus-II and SpaceX's Falcon-9) to the unknown mass (weight) of a brand new SET of spacecraft while leaving room for the stuff that you get paid for (the cargo). Keep in mind the design teams have to develop a spacecraft that can accommodate unpressurized and pressurized cargo... with capabilities to accommodate a return vehicle as well. Also, in contrast to comments above, the government is not supplying anything other than specifications for operations near the ISS. Orbital and SpaceX have developed both rocket and spacecraft designs in-house with no help from NASA. I can't speak for SpaceX, but Orbital has some of the best rocket designers in the world. From http://www.orbital.com/SpaceLaunch/ [orbital.com] : "Combined, our space launch vehicles have launched over 115 satellites into orbit in the last 18 years." This does not include the interceptor or target systems developed by orbital (in-house). Watch out ULA (United Launch Alliance - Lockheed and Boeing's rocket business) there's some new kids on the block ;-)

obama is fucking you up the ass (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26219395)

and you're too dumb to see it. he's a fucking fraud.

It's only .005 TARPS (3, Funny)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219655)

Why should anyone complain about this? For all of his other faults, the Bush administration has given us some great new units of federal spending that we can use the same way we measure storage capacity with "libraries of congress". Why think in terms of millions or billions or even trillions, when we can say that this new NASA contract is only .005 TARPs, 0.00583 Iraq wars, 0.014 Katrinas, 0.00875 Medicare Prescription Drugs, and 0.0175 Farm bailouts.

It's chump change!

I'm glad I'm around to see it. (1)

Patchw0rk F0g (663145) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219691)

I've always been a big Robert Heinlein fan, and the character of D.D. Harriman was particularly fun to imagine.

With this, it looks like Bob's vision of commercial space flight is finally starting to stretch to the plateau that he saw. I'm more than excited: maybe this means that that elusive space elevator is possible too? Oh, not by the same people, but hey! Maybe that's the next step.

In any case, kudos to the two companies. Thanks for seeing Mr. Heinlein's vision come true.

What's special about this? (1)

heroine (1220) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219819)

It doesn't sound any different than Lockheed or NGC getting $3 billion. The concept drawings from any of these companies are equally far from the real thing. Maybe the CEO of SpaceX is worth a little more than the Lockheed CEO. It's not the populist access to space we envisioned 5 years ago. We only think it is because Elon Musk says so.

Re:What's special about this? (2, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#26219921)

It doesn't sound any different than Lockheed or NGC getting $3 billion.

As I've noted in another comment, the difference is that Lockheed/NGC have cost-plus contracts, while this is a fixed-price contract. Lockheed et al get more money if they go overbudget. SpaceX has to pay the cost if they go overbudget.

The concept drawings from any of these companies are equally far from the real thing. Maybe the CEO of SpaceX is worth a little more than the Lockheed CEO.

Concept drawings? SpaceX's Falcon 9 has already been transported to Cape Canaveral [spacex.com] , and will be fully assembled and vertical within the next week.

Anyone else thinking... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26220007)

Woohoo, now we can have SPACE truckers!

More details (2, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#26220251)

For anyone looking for more info, here's some handy links:

* RLV News's link round-up on the announcement [hobbyspace.com]

* Notes from the question-and-answer teleconference after the announcement [hobbyspace.com]

Some pasted notes from the teleconference which were missing from the article linked in the summary:

  • This is a true, standard procurement contract. COTS deals with R&D.
  • No relationship to decision on COTS-D manned option. [this is the commercial contract many are hoping for which would involve fixed-price payments to transport astronauts to the ISS]
  • Dec. 2010 first SpaceX flight, Oct 2011 - first Orbital flight
  • Extensive set of reviews will insure that vehicles are ready to deliver cargo
  • Bid decision involved technical evaluation of vehicles, evaluation of readiness for 2010-2011, evaluation of the companies, etc. Our evaluation is that these systems will be ready in time.
  • Commercial services will carry 40%-70% per year of US cargo to the ISS (larger percentage as time goes on)
  • Schedule payment is based on milestones. Final payment upon delivery of cargo for a given mission.
  • Shuttle extension would not affect this contract. Use any excess shuttle capability for other items, e.g. experiments.
  • Truly committed this time to commercial cargo delivery.
  • Both use common berthing mechanism as with Japanese HTV
  • Orbital to launch from Wallops, SpaceX from the Cape
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