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NASA To Invest In Commercial Crew Concepts

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the this-is-yer-captain-speaking dept.

NASA 77

xp65 writes "Today NASA released information regarding its intention to invest $50 million in commercial crew concepts. This new program, known as the Commercial Crew Development or 'CCDev,' represents a new milestone in the development of an orbital commercial human spaceflight sector. By maturing 'the design and development of commercial crew spaceflight concepts and associated enabling technologies and capabilities,' the program will allow several companies to move a few steps forward towards the ultimate goal of full demonstration of commercial human spaceflight to orbit."

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They should patent spaceflight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28972435)

and sue Elon Musk...

Re:They should patent spaceflight (1)

haifastudent (1267488) | more than 4 years ago | (#28975343)

Prior art. Well, they're already going to have to outsource to Russia soon anyway...

Nigger Rich (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28972461)

Looks like somebody threw a million dollars in to a monkey cage.

Everyone knows what would be best in a crew (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28972503)

Topless flight attendants - the question everyone has but doesn't want to ask about zero-g can now be answered.

Re:Everyone knows what would be best in a crew (1)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 4 years ago | (#28975179)

Wouldn't that apply to bottomless stewards as well? ;-)

Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28972523)

Why invest in them? Why not just go fully open-source and sell what you use? The commercial industry can learn from your experience and use your proven technology. You'd probably make money instead of spend it.

Re:Why? (1)

Lillebo (1561251) | more than 4 years ago | (#28977345)

Parent AC actually has a very valid point.

More Money For Prime Contractors (4, Interesting)

mpapet (761907) | more than 4 years ago | (#28972573)

Any of you familiar with the way the contract system works in the U.S. should agree. The prime contractor (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, etc) will take most of the money and farm out the task to a couple of sub-contractors who will farm their tasks out.

This is a perfect example of how the notion of 'small government' is being used against the citizens that clamor for it.

Re:More Money For Prime Contractors (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28973015)

Small gov't would be them not taking my money in the first place!

Stupid NASA Tricks (4, Informative)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973025)

If this was funny, it would be a joke. The NASA press release [nasa.gov] on this says:

"NASAâ(TM)s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program is applying Recovery Act funds to stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities. These efforts are intended to foster entrepreneurial activity leading to job growth in engineering, analysis, design, and research, and to economic growth as capabilities for new markets are created. By developing commercial crew service providers, NASA may be able to reduce the gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability. All ARRA funded activities must comply with its provisions and will conclude no later than September 30, 2010."

This is yet another Stupid NASA Trick. Are they serious? At this level of funding, which wouldn't even pay for the airlock on the Orion capsule, a private contractor is going to "bridge the gap" that NASA created? If NASA hadn't killed promising R&D programs like the X-33 (VentureStar) [fas.org] , we would already have replaced the Shuttle with a system which reduced flight costs substantially, improved safety and reliability, has shorter turn-around times, and can fly more often. Which, by the way, is what is needed to help stimulate a growing space economy. It all depends on reduced cost of, and increased reliability of access to orbit. Constellation isn't going to provide that. COTS, (and this new bit, given a new name to keep 'em guessing) are funded at levels so low as to guarantee NASA will never face competition from the private companies which win these bids. This is not a joke, it's a charade.

If the objective were to create a private market for access to space, NASA could do this easily. All they need to do is announce that they will buy payload to LEO delivery services from the private market, at market rates. Right now market rates for a single launch of a modest payload are higher than the total size of this program.

NASA probably spent more than this on artwork and publicity for Contellation / Orion / Aeries.

Re:Stupid NASA Tricks (4, Informative)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973629)

This was originally going to be $300 million (according to the original "Recovery Act" appropriation), but Senator Shelby (R-Alabama) decided to move the funds to the Ares I/V development. What happened here is that Shelby finally "compromised" and admitted that it wasn't intended strictly for the Constellation program.

BTW, Elon Musk and SpaceX were planning on doing this development anyway... with or without NASA funds. What even this little bit does is to help encourage the development of the launch escape system (and the manned version of the Dragon Capsule) slightly ahead of when SpaceX would have built it on their own. In addition, this will allow an alternative to using the Soyuz spacecraft for travel to and from the ISS once the Space Shuttle retires.

Keep in mind that SpaceX wants to sell spaceflight services to private companies (like Bigelow Aerospace and Space Adventures) and to other interested private individuals... as well as to some countries like Dubai who are trying to get into space. Until now, there was no American company willing to sell you a "seat" into orbital flight at any price... and even the Russians have shut down their commercial manned spaceflight slots. As to how many flights SpaceX will make once all this get built... I couldn't guess. I would imagine, however, that NASA would not have even half of the flights that might fly.

The first flight of the Falcon 9 is due to go up in a couple of months... as the hardware is already built and all that is happening now is the final tests to determine flight worthiness. Once that is proven... the Dragon capsule will be fairly straight forward as one more iteration on the development cycle on what will be hopefully a proven launch vehicle. The first unmanned flights of the Dragon capsule might happen as soon as next year... and may be flying before the shuttle is even officially retired. They are that close to being ready.

As far as NASA spending more on the art work for the Constellation/Ares rocket system than this... you may be correct. What is amazing is how much has happened in spite of this kind of paltry effort to support commercial spaceflight.

paltry effort to support commercial spaceflight (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#28974745)

Yes, it is also truly amazing how many such efforts exist. However, the history of this industry has been one of under-funded efforts which drag on as paper studies and modest R&D technology explorations, which then fold.

list of private space launch efforts [wikipedia.org]


btw... fascinating details on the funding history of this project, thanks.

Re:Stupid NASA Tricks (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28974145)

If NASA hadn't killed promising R&D programs like the X-33 (VentureStar), ...

While X-33 as a reuseable launch vehicle technology development program was a good idea, Lockheed-Martin VentureStar was the worst possible choice.

The short answer why is that on top of demanding technology and test flight objectives, VentureStar added bleeding-edge carbon-fiber conformal fuel tanks and aerospike rocket engines. Lockheed Martin was never able to reduce the weight enough to meet any flight objectives.

carbon fiber tanks (2, Informative)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#28974867)

Engineers from the project claimed that NASA directed the carbon fiber tank exploration in X-33, over the objections of the engineers. (This should sound familiar. This type of bureaucratic snafu created problems on the Shuttle program.) The program goals could have been achieved with a (low-risk) aluminum-lithium tank, apparently. Furthermore, Lockheed Martin funded additional R&D on the carbon fiber tanks after the cancellation of the X-33. Although the technology wasn't quite ready at the time the X-33 was cancelled, it was relatively close at hand, certainly as compared to long range projects like scramjets. X-33: What Really Happened [nasaspaceflight.com] .

Re:carbon fiber tanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28976011)

Engineers from the project claimed that NASA directed the carbon fiber tank exploration in X-33, over the objections of the engineers.

Really? My understanding is that conformal carbon fiber tanks (along with the aerospike engines and bleeding-edge thermal protection system) were part of Lockheed Martin's proposal. In fact, my understanding is that Lockheed Martin was selected in part because it was part of their proposal (McDonnell-Douglas and Rockwell proposed using more conventional technology). NASA does love technology.

Carbon fiber tanks per se might have worked (maybe, eventually), but I think the real killer was the conformal requirement. As you say, aluminum-lithium would have been the lower risk alternative.

Furthermore, Lockheed Martin funded additional R&D on the carbon fiber tanks after the cancellation of the X-33.

Of course, carbon fiber fuel tanks, aerospike engines and Narloy-Z thermal protection systems all deserve further development. Maybe just not on the same vehicle at the same time.

Re:Stupid NASA Tricks (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28983149)

Whoa there.

The carbon fiber tanks sucked badly due to strength and cracking problems. Nobody had seriously done a conventional cylindrical LH2 tank yet and all of the sudden they wanted a multilobe tank. It's no surprise there were cost/weight overruns because nobody had applicable previous experience.

But don't blame the engine. The linear aerospike was a comparatively simple variant of the annular aerospike long ago developed by Rocketdyne, which had run all sorts of fun fuels including flourine. The engine would have been decent, and in the case of the VentureStar, would have fit well with the intended aft shape of a lifting body. A conventional annular aerospike would have had broader uses though.

Re:Stupid NASA Tricks (2, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#28974375)

If NASA hadn't killed promising R&D programs like the X-33 (VentureStar), we would already have replaced the Shuttle with a system which reduced flight costs substantially, improved safety and reliability, has shorter turn-around times, and can fly more often.

All I can say is "the grass is always greener" and "sour grapes". The X-33, like the Shuttle, had too many untested/unproven technologies to result in a craft that was cheaper/safer/more reliable/etc... It's almost certain it would have been a white elephant. Though to be fair, a new generation of white elephant isn't entirely a bad thing as we won't ever develop the requisite technologies without actually flying multiple generations of craft.
 
 

Which, by the way, is what is needed to help stimulate a growing space economy.

The space economy is already a multi-billion dollar affair. Most proponents of improved space access like to pretend the existing economy doesn't exist or doesn't matter, but it does. Mainly what they are trying to do is redefine 'space economy' as equivalent to 'space activities other than that done existing big aerospace corporation', even when the new startups are doing or planning on doing the same activity.
 
Or to put it less gently, the amount of doublethink, self delusion, special pleading, and smoke blowing in the space proponent community is astonishing.
 
 

It all depends on reduced cost of, and increased reliability of access to orbit.

It also depends on finding a market for all those boosters. Right now, all the bets are on one faltering horse - tourism.
 
 

If the objective were to create a private market for access to space, NASA could do this easily. All they need to do is announce that they will buy payload to LEO delivery services from the private market, at market rates. Right now market rates for a single launch of a modest payload are higher than the total size of this program.

NASA, and the USAF, have been buying payload to orbit delivery services (other than the vast minority represented by Shuttle launches) from the private market for decades. (Not to mention B2B [wikipedia.org] transactions by private satellite operators.) Though space proponents don't like to admit it - Boeing, LockMart, etc are private companies.
 
Remember what I said above about re defining terms and special pleadings? When space proponents say "purchase launches from the private market", that's code for "subsidizing our preferred booster manufacturers".

Re:Stupid NASA Tricks (2, Insightful)

icebrain (944107) | more than 4 years ago | (#28975747)

It's almost certain it would have been a white elephant. Though to be fair, a new generation of white elephant isn't entirely a bad thing as we won't ever develop the requisite technologies without actually flying multiple generations of craft.

If only more people understood that. Everyone wants cheaper access to space, but nobody wants to ay the legwork to get it. New technologies don't just appear out of nowhere; someone has to work on them. Making powerpoint slides and computer models doesn't count; paper printouts, equations, and nebulous ones and zeros don't put payloads in orbit.

Re:Stupid NASA Tricks (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#28980085)

If only more people understood that. Everyone wants cheaper access to space, but nobody wants to ay the legwork to get it. New technologies don't just appear out of nowhere; someone has to work on them.

Indeed. It's quite unfortunate that NASA ended up cancelling most of its technology research projects to pay for the Ares I development program going grossly overbudget.

Re:Stupid NASA Tricks (1)

Tekfactory (937086) | more than 4 years ago | (#28975239)

NASA is already paying for payload to LEO services, SpaceX has a contract. While I agree with some of your skepticism, I have a few problems with your conclusion that $50 million isn't serious money.

Soyuz modules can get 3 crew to orbit, and cost $50 million per launch. This isn't even a development cost, its a licensing deal with the Russians.

SpaceX Falcon 9 costs approximately $50 million per launch and they could put the the DEVELOPMENT money towards Man Rating the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon Module which is supposed to carry 7 people. $50 million to work on something you were working on anyway.

Supposedly it would cost 300 million Euros to DEVELOP a Crew Vehicle derived from the European space Agencies Automated Transfer Vehicle which is already man-rated. I guess EADS and Boeing wouldn't take $50 million of NASA's money for something they were already doing.

And lastly I guess the X-Prize folks are all idiots because they put up a paltry $10 million that spurred $100 million dollars in spending by people trying to claim it.

Re:Stupid NASA Tricks (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#28976429)

Soyuz modules can get 3 crew to orbit, and cost $50 million per launch.
Not sure (and am not going to google at this time), but I think that we pay 50 million PER PERSON, not per launch. while SpaceX is going to charge under a 100 million PER HUMAN RATED LAUNCH, which is either 6 or 7 ppl (35 million for a cargo rated launch). BIG difference in costs.

As to EU, rarely has EADS been on time or costs WRT their products. The 380 is a good example. My guess is that they are looking at .5-1 BILLION euro or more (and about 4-5 years).

Re:Stupid NASA Tricks (2, Insightful)

rbanffy (584143) | more than 4 years ago | (#28976379)

"If NASA hadn't killed promising R&D programs like the X-33 (VentureStar) "

On the other hand, if NASA hadn't killed the Apollo program, we would be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first lunar base this year...

The shuttle also was, just like Venturestar, a promising, low-cost workhorse. In the end, it turned out to be much harder to build and operate a real vehicle. Venturestar would, probably, follow more or less the same path. Remember: every technology holds a couple surprises.

Let's see what comes out of Ares or that Shuttle-C-like thing. We have time. It's not like space is going anywhere.

Re:More Money For Prime Contractors (1)

CodingHero (1545185) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973959)

Any of you familiar with the way the contract system works in the U.S. should agree. The prime contractor (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, etc) will take most of the money and farm out the task to a couple of sub-contractors who will farm their tasks out.

And if experience is any indication, the prime contractor will mis-manage the project and any high quality work done by the smaller sub-contractors will be wasted once funding gets pulled due to aforementioned mismanagement.

Re:More Money For Prime Contractors (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#28974781)

A certain government contract job gets posted for contract bids. The first person bids $10,000. The second bids $15,000 and the third bids $210,000. When the third guy is asked why his bid is so high, he says: $100,000 for me, $100,000 for you, and $10,000 to hire the first guy to do the work.

Guess which one gets the contract.

Re:More Money For Prime Contractors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28976239)

4 years ago, Haliburton would have gotten it at 1 Million. Things MAY be different now. Either openness will improve things, or it simply means that Haliburton will be traded for a dem company.

Re:More Money For Prime Contractors (2, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#28974855)

Any of you familiar with the way the contract system works in the U.S. should agree. The prime contractor (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, etc) will take most of the money and farm out the task to a couple of sub-contractors who will farm their tasks out.

Um, the whole point of NASA looking at commercial cargo and commercial crew transport is to do away with this contract system, or at least find an alternative. Under the traditional cost-plus contracting (where the contractor gets whatever they report cost of development/operations is, plus a percentage), what you describe happens a lot, because if farming their tasks out increases overall cost that just increases their profit.

However, with the commercial alternatives NASA is trying (COTS, this new CCDev program), they used a prenegotiated fixed-price contract, with payments based on prearranged milestones. If the contractor's costs go up due to them poorly estimating or trying to milk out more money, the contractor either ends up losing money or just stops receiving money altogether. On top of that, the contracts will be awarded to multiple competing companies, so that if one of them is trying anything funny or is incompetent, NASA can just drop them and buy from another company.

So yes, the hope is that this program will help fix the problem you describe.

Re:More Money For Prime Contractors (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#28975605)

Except, assuming this is following the same format as NASA COTS, its intended to be a break from that exact problem.

This is not a cost-plus contract, it's a fixed-price contract. That is, if the contractor doesn't deliver, they don't get their money, and if they go over-budget its out of their own pockets. This forces the companies to behave like actual competitive corporations and not the military/industrial complex leeches they currently are, and also opens the door to other, smaller groups (e.g. SpaceX with the Dragon capsule if it ever comes to pass).

This isn't big government vs. small government, its smart vs. stupid government. The traditional methods appease the big companies and bring lots of jobs to every state (you'll notice Lockheed Martin has locations in most states), so are more likely to do well in congress. Programs like COTS and CCDev, however, intend to achieve the agency goals in the most effective manner possible, assuming you define those goals as building spacecraft and advancing the frontier, rather than bringing the pork home.

How about... (4, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#28972629)

How about releasing the info to -all- US citizens who paid their tax money for it? Because in the end this will end up benefiting major government contractors (Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, etc) who more or less already have the tech for spaceflight, rather then helping get space tourism, or other commercial spaceflight off the ground.

Re:How about... (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 4 years ago | (#28972831)

I don't necessarily have a problem with the large contractors getting the bulk of the money, as they typically the companies that have the resources to work on things of this nature.

It's when huge companies get funds to do mundane things that I question our government.

Re:How about... (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973751)

But you and me funded them. Yes, they did too, but there comes a time where you should have access to the things your tax dollars have supported. Would you be in favor of public libraries being restricted to students and retirees? Even though they are the two groups who have the most time to read?

Re:How about... (1)

Hubbell (850646) | more than 4 years ago | (#28987553)

There's a difference between your tax dollars directly funding something, and your tax dollars being used to BUY something. The company that ends up getting the money isn't being funded by NASA, they're being paid by NASA so that NASA can purchase their goods from them.

Re:How about... (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#28972905)

The short answer is that building a spacecraft to orbit and come back is 100% equivalent to building an ICBM. How many average joes in the US do you think would be willing to sell that information to anyone who asks? I know it's not ideal, but I really would prefer if countries like North Korea and Iran don't have that kind of technology.

Re:How about... (1, Informative)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#28974363)

The short answer is that building a spacecraft to orbit and come back is 100% equivalent to building an ICBM. How many average joes in the US do you think would be willing to sell that information to anyone who asks? I know it's not ideal, but I really would prefer if countries like North Korea and Iran don't have that kind of technology.

I'd give it at best 80% or less. ICBMs have a very different flight profile than an orbital vehicle, and certainly a different overall design goal in terms of how you want to use the vehicles as well.

Consider, an ICBM's goal is to deliver a nuclear warhead (a rather sturdy little package on the whole with almost no appendages and relatively simple functionality... it just has to go BOOM eventually) to a specific geographical location as fast as it can. The acceleration forces on an ICBM can go as high as 30x normal gravity here on the Earth (aka 30 g's) and can put up with other forces that would destroy most typical spaceflight hardware... and particularly human passengers. The Apollo spacecraft that went to the Moon would pull a maximum of about 9 g's in the early stages of flight, and on average about 6 g's. The Space Shuttle has a maximum of about 4 g's for both passengers and cargo.

And all this is just forces going up... not really taking into account the issues of orbital insertion and smoothing out the orbit to something useful.... or making a maneuver heading to geo-synchronous orbit.

As for re-entry... most ICBM warheads use Uranium as the heat shield. It makes a nice protective heavy metal that is going to melt anyway once it blows up, and it helps to reduce payload mass on top of that as the metal can be used as a part of the bomb itself. Again, this is a completely different design regime compared to trying to make a "soft" landing where you actually want to recover the contents of the vehicle (not even a design consideration for an ICBM)... much less trying to recover human passengers/crew members.

So the point here is that while there are some similarities and certainly some knowledge that can be utilized by both ICBM builders and by spacecraft launchers, it really is two different areas of expertise and there are design compromises that impact each type of vehicle.

Even the launching aspects of both kinds of vehicles have a different profile. An ICBM has to be ready to launch for years... even decades at a time. A spacecraft launcher, on the other hand, is designed to be launched as soon as it is ready. This will have a significant impact on the choice of equipment chosen for each type of vehicle.

Of course, who knows... North Korea and Iran may want to launch their ICBMs as soon as they are developed and ready to use, but I digress that that point.

Far too many of both the American and Russian space vehicle launches came from a background of being converted ICBMs... which is one of the reasons why spaceflight continues to be expensive even today. They were built to be deployed rapidly and to hit a target with precision, it is an afterthought that they might be used in space. The booster engines have to be "de-tuned" to throttle back for the safety of the cargo, and components fail because they aren't really intended for spaceflight. If the USA launches 100 ICBMs and only 80 actually reach their targets.... that is considered a military success. If you are in a spacecraft that will blow up or be destroyed 20% of the time.... that would normally be considered a disaster.

Also, nearly all information (including blueprints, engineering notes, and more) of how NASA builts its rockets are in the public domain and accessible either through its various websites, contacting NASA curators directly, or by visiting the National Archives in Washington D.C. This isn't "Top Secret" information, and a well trained aerospace engineer can read enough information to make corrections to their designs by reading this public information.

The point is, building ICBMs and spacecraft launchers is not identical and in many ways spacecraft launchers could be built in a way that would prevent their use for ICBMs.

Re:How about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28974589)

I'd give it at best 80% or less. ICBMs have a very different flight profile than an orbital vehicle, and certainly a different overall design goal in terms of how you want to use the vehicles as well.

True, but off the point.

The point is that if you release all the details of how to build a space launch vehicle, you also are giving people the know-how to build ICBMs.

Details are different, but the engineering uses the same basic toolkit.

[snip]

...As for re-entry... most ICBM warheads use Uranium as the heat shield....

They most certainly do not.

Nice try, though. Let's propagate that meme-- hey terrorists! Third-world dictators! ICBMs use Uranium as a heat shield material! Pass it on!

Re:How about... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28976853)

You say that spacecraft launchers aren't 100% equivalent to ICBMs like that should comfort us, but every single difference you mention (tiny failure rates, fragile cargo, higher energy trajectory) is an example of how spacecraft launchers are far, far superior to ICBMs. An ICBM couldn't take you into space, but you could sure as hell use the space shuttle to deliver a nuke.

So yes, I would still like to keep this technology out of the hands of Iran and North Korea.

Re:How about... (1)

Wizlish (1612123) | more than 4 years ago | (#28983681)

Not to detract from most of the points you make: I think he means FOBS more than the typical MIRVed fast-burn ICBM approach, and yes, a reasonably competent SSTO would be capable of this. Look at the mass of a typical RV to get an idea of the effective 'throw weight' that the SSTO would require for a given strike; I wouldn't be surprised if reasonably-competent college tech classes couldn't build a nav system for post-release guidance, or the analogue to a warhead bus. We can't really rely on restrictions on MARV technology, either, although that does involve 'slightly' more sophisticated materials and engineering... You seem to be predicating some of your thinking on an assumption that the only feasible launch mode would be 'cold-war' style massive TOT salvoes following the general scenarii from mutual-assured-deterrence models. That's somewhat unlikely to be the method of attack used by "minor" nuclear powers today. You also assume that 'launch detection' would follow the same model as was used traditionally for ICBMs. While it's possible that a nation like North Korea might try to build a 'sufficiently' large number of SSTO vehicles and then launch them en masse for some matter of perceived national pride (or suicide), I'd be more concerned about things like 'terrorist diversion' of one or more vehicles (nudge, nudge, wink,wink, plausible denial anyone?). Would you order these to be shot down immediately, possibly knowing about as much as the captain of the Vincennes did about the actual threat posed by the vehicle(s)? If you remember the 'original' concerns about FOBS, once something is on-orbit (or in a fundamentally-'orbital' trajectory with corresponding speed and momentum) most of the work needed for prompt-strike is accomplished. (And the job of rapid response, already complicated here by uncertainty about what might constitute first sign of an attack, or where the lags might be before an adequate exoatmosphere interdiction could be commanded, becomes almost intolerable...) I have always thought this was one of the principal concerns behind official Administration policy toward X-33/VentureStar cancellation "after the lesson of 9/11" and in the framework of diplomatic arms-control concerns. I would, indeed, have concerns about the use of commercial space vehicles as potential weapons platforms (even before we start getting into Q-ship discussions...) Just extending the picture a bit.

Re:How about... (1)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973763)

>How about releasing the info to -all- US citizens who paid their tax money for it?

The first reason is how do you stop the information from reaching other countries, and their militaries? There is a lot of knowledge that is needed for space flight that is ITAR controlled, which means that it is illegal to pass that information on to a non-US citizen. Putting some (not all) of this information into the public domain would be the equivalent of giving it to anyone in the world who wanted it.

The second reason is that the companies that do much of the actual building of spacecraft and the communications and navigations systems that these spacecraft use do not want other companies to learn their methods and techniques. There are a lot of trade secrets in spaceships.

Re:How about... (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#28975409)

There is a lot of knowledge that is needed for space flight that is ITAR controlled,

That may be, but it's nonsense though. Any competent mechanical engineer should be able to design a rocket. The basic principles have been known for thousands of years. Kerosene and liquid oxygen in - hot high velocity exhaust out. Servos and gyros to steer the thrust vector. All you have to do is make it strong enough to withstand the forces while keeping it as light as you can. Throw a material sciences guy and a chemist together to work on the alloys and fuel mixes. About the only thing I can think of that would be classified would be the specific formulation of the fuel in the solid rockets.

Re:How about... (1)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 4 years ago | (#28976937)

Building the rocket is not the problem. The clever technology is in the communications system and the navigation. Making sure that something in space goes exactly where you want it to, and stays there, is not simple. There are governments that would pay a lot for the technology that NASA uses in some of its missions. As someone posted earlier, building a rocket that can launch, reach orbit, and then go where you want it to is essentially the same as building an ICBM.

I agree that a good deal of the ITAR regulations are nonsense though.

So they "invest" $50 million (3, Interesting)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#28972633)

To figure out how to get people to pay them money? How much money are they thinking they'll get back? It's more than $50 million, right?

Re:So they "invest" $50 million (2, Funny)

WormholeFiend (674934) | more than 4 years ago | (#28972753)

At least they'll get to name everything... the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks

Re:So they "invest" $50 million (1)

SilasMortimer (1612867) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973717)

More important will be the Starbucks Space Station, the Starbucks stall in the international space station, and the first Starbucks on the moon.

It's just my job, five days a week... coffee man, brewin' up his joe up there alone...

Re:So they "invest" $50 million (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28974891)

But will they offer handjobs?

Re:So they "invest" $50 million (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#28975015)

In this case, it's more of an expected savings in the future. Considering that the "conventional" approach NASA uses has resulted in a rocket program expected to cost well over $45 billion, while the commercial contractors are expected to be able to produce similar capabilities for a couple of billion, I'd say that anything that promotes the commercial companies is a great investment. This should have been done a long time ago, but as it is, NASA needs to put more effort into switching from cost-plus contracts towards commercial fixed-price competitive contracts.

Also, this was originally supposed to be $150 million, but Sen. Shelby (R-AL) blocked NASA's funding until they diverted $100 million more towards the multi-billion dollar Ares project developed at NASA Marshall (coincidentally, in his state). I'm not sure how NASA will be splitting up the reduced amount of money, but when they had asked for the larger amount they were planning on spending it as follows:

http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_space_thewritestuff/2009/04/cots-d-commericial-human-spaceflight-to-get-150m.html [orlandosentinel.com]

According to industry insiders, about $80 million of the $150 million is specifically for a "crewed launch demo." The rest was broken down into $42 million for a docking system to the international space station, $20 million for a cargo transportation demo and $8 million for miscellaneous aspects of the COTS program, including human rating. The remaining $250 million of the stimulus money for human exploration will go to the Constellation program.

Bing, O wise one, why are slashdoters so stupid ? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28972635)

Bing: Because slashdoters are the reference used by dictionaries for "stupid" !! Facts are facts !! If you don't like it, go tell slashdot !!

Only $50M....Really? (2, Insightful)

ducomputergeek (595742) | more than 4 years ago | (#28972915)

Everyone is already complaining about it being unfair, but remind me, how much is congress getting ready to spend on Cash for Clunkers again? $50M is chump change. Hell, I can make the argument that NASA's entire budget is chump change these days compared to many other departments and all the other spending that is going on.

I wonder if people opinion would be different if they called it $50 Million in economic research stimulus.

Cash for Clunkers vs. X-33 VentureStar (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973631)

Cash for Clunkers was originally funded at $US 1 Billion. Congress is negotiating this week to add an additional $US 2 Billion to the program. The original intent of the program was to stimulate the auto industry, encourage consumers to buy more fuel efficient cars, while removing older less efficient cars from the roads permanently. Key provisions of the program were compromised during its initial passing, which result in only slight gains with respect to carbon emissions, particularly when the carbon cost of producing the new vehicle is accounted for.

Three billion bucks would have purchased a revived X-33 program, starting over from scratch if necessary. Since the technology developed for the X-33 is still around, it's likely that $3 Billion would get you through the complete construction and flight testing of the X-33, and then started building the first full scale VentureStar vehicle. They would probably cost about $1 Billion each, if you built four or five. We should plan to build these like airplanes. Build one set or "block" of maybe 2 or 3 craft, then do a round of design improvements, retool and build a second block of improved vehicles, say 7 or 8, for a total of 10 vehicles in the fleet.

X-33 / VentureStar : What Really Happened [nasaspaceflight.com]

VentureStar [wikipedia.org]

This would make sense, if the goal were to actually build a more reliable and less expensive access to space. Unfortunately, NASA continues to optimize for unfathomable bureaucratic goals, and misguided attempts to recapture perceived glory of Apollo.

Re:Cash for Clunkers vs. X-33 VentureStar (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973991)

Cash for Clunkers was originally funded at $US 1 Billion. Congress is negotiating this week to add an additional $US 2 Billion to the program. The original intent of the program was to stimulate the auto industry, encourage consumers to buy more fuel efficient cars, while removing older less efficient cars from the roads permanently. Key provisions of the program were compromised during its initial passing, which result in only slight gains with respect to carbon emissions, particularly when the carbon cost of producing the new vehicle is accounted for.

Despite the program being neutered, people are actually buying cars significantly more efficient than the ones they turn in:
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1914602,00.html [time.com]

Re:Cash for Clunkers vs. X-33 VentureStar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28974659)

You are nuts. The shuttle, which is a simpler program then the venturestar, cost ~28 billion (inflation adjusted from 5 billion in 1970 dollars) in development costs alone. The development costs of the venturestar would be at least that, probably double.

Cash for clunkers is a zero or two away from reaching NASA development budgets.

Shuttle vs. VentureStar complexity (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#28976067)

NASA and Lockheed Martin estimated [gao.gov] that it would cost $US(1999) 7.2 Billion to build and begin flying the first two VentureStar vehicles, following the completion of the X-33 flight demonstrations. This included launch infrastructure. (My flawed recollection was based on earlier estimates which suggested four vehicles at about $5 Billion, but I'm hardly off by a factor of "nuts".)

At first glance it might seem that the VentureStar would have been more complex than the shuttle, but that's a mistaken impression. The X-33 [wikipedia.org] program to build a scale flight demonstration unit was funded at less than $US1999 1.5 Billion. For that price, an impressive set of technologies were developed and tested, and they were all quite successful, with the notorious exception of the carbon fiber cryogenic Liquid Hydrogen tank. The vehicle design was actually quite a bit simpler than the Shuttle from many important perspectives. The flight article was very nearly compete. The program would have come in under $2 Billion even if it had been up-funded to replace the carbon fiber tank with aluminum-lithium. The original estimates for the VentureStar were in the neighborhood of $US (1999) 6 Billion to build 4 VentureStar vehicles.
  • Innovative aerospike engine for better performance with fewer moving parts than SSME
  • SSTO lifting body design, vertical takeoff, horizontal landing (and importantly, horizontal processing, cheaper and more flexible launch infrastructure)
  • novel metalic thermal protection system, more reliable, more durable, dramatically easier to service
  • vehicle designed for high flight rates, quick turn-around time (no noxious propellant for on-orbit maneuvering system, contrast the Shuttle, for example)
  • VentureStar provided simplified, standardized ("container" based) payload integration, rather than an orbiting space station capability like the Shuttle

Re:Shuttle vs. VentureStar complexity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28978075)

I had no idea they thought they could do it so cheaply. I missed the "unmanned" part, which explains that price. I always assumed it was meant to be a full shuttle replacement. Oops.

Alright, you convinced me. I don't have a clunker to trade in, so I'd much rather see the venturestar be built.

Re:Shuttle vs. VentureStar complexity (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#29097731)

What fascinates me most is that we've apparently already spent about $US (2008) 9 Billion on Aeries 1 and Orion. It costs as much to do the wrong thing, as to do the right thing.

The VentureStar approach for manned flights to orbit, by the way, was to first demonstrate vehicle reliability and iron out design issues over many flights, then build a manned module in a payload container. It was a brilliant approach, really.

I never saw this discussed, but it seems like a system like this could be approached in the same way as aircraft (commercial and military) which benefit from retrofits and successive design iterations, too. Build the first two and fly them. Later they get upgraded engines, for example. This could be done if the addressable market included ESA, India, Japan, for example. Heck, even Russia might be interested in buying a couple. All of those programs could benefit from cheaper access to LEO. The overall program would benefit from building a larger number of vehicles, and the improvements permitted by successive design iterations.

Re:Only $50M....Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28973903)

Your sig

Myth: Stallman is a socialist seeking to destroy commercial software companies"' "Fact: Stallman is a communist seeking

Since socialist and communist are both words meaning "person I do not agree with", how can one be myth and the other be fact?

Who cares what NASA is doing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28973373)

DEFUND And Shut Down NASA!
Private Spaceflight NOW!
Government Control OUT!

NASA is like IRAQ - We need an EXIT STRATEGY!

Re:Who cares what NASA is doing? (1)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973799)

That would knock the US back to where it was in the early 1960s, which would effectively leave the rest of the world decades ahead of the US in space.

Re:Who cares what NASA is doing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28974507)

And the problem with this is where? I would rather not have the US government controlling access to space unless it ceases to be the fundamentalist theocratic government we know now. And if it can't evolve past that, then it should die. The US government can't even guarantee basic health care for citizens and yet they think they deserve to control access to space? You can't even control access to dangerous murder weapons and illicit drugs.

role of private industry and government (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#28974365)

Regular readers of my comments will know that I'm highly critical of NASA. However, it's important for enthusiastic supporters of space exploration to understand that private industry, left to its own devices, is not likely (is, in fact, extremely unlikely) to fund the R&D required to build the next generation of space transportation system. Getting to LEO is a big, big project. Much bigger than the trans-continental railways. Private corporations do not have the vision required for long term investment on this scale. They have quarterly numbers to meet, impatient and risk averse investors and managers.

The entire global investment in privately funded launch programs, if combined into a single program, is probably still a bit shy of appropriate funding for a single modern system, say, the Skylon [reactionengines.co.uk] program.

What we need is rational, visionary, intelligent and consistent policy, with consistent and rational funding to back it up. Governments, funding the next generation of launch systems required to get to orbit more reliably and more cheaply (through agencies like NASA, or maybe DARPA) will need to be involved.

But they need to be directed and funded to do the job, and do it with the right goals in mind. The X-33 VentureStar program had the right goals [fas.org] and the right plan for reaching them. (Skylon's goals are similar.) Private industry (Lockheed Martin) was instrumental in helping to define those goals, by the way. The original long range plan for the X-33 program involved a privately operated fleet of launch vehicles, VentureStar. NASA's role was to fund initial risk reduction (technology development) in the X-33 program, and probably subsidize the initial construction of the vehicle fleet at some level (through guaranteed purchases of payload delivery).

X-33 Venture Star (discussion archive in which X-33 engineers participated) [nasaspaceflight.com]
X-33 Venture Star (more archived discussion) [nasaspaceflight.com]

A smart approach would be to fund development of both Skylon (about 12.5 tons to LEO) and X-33/VentureStar (about 25 tons to LEO). The systems are designed to fit different parts of the launch market. They should be developed jointly, so they can use common subsystems, such as compatible payload support for example. The combined systems would begin to create a private launch market, with a much more flexible delivery of payload to space.

Re:role of private industry and government (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28974635)

Regular readers of my comments will know that I'm highly critical of NASA.

Are you sure? Both of them?

Re:role of private industry and government (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28977977)

Regular readers of my comments will know that I'm highly critical of NASA

Yours truly,
Anonymous Coward

Re:role of private industry and government (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#28974679)

Regular readers of my comments will know that I'm highly critical of NASA. However, it's important for enthusiastic supporters of space exploration to understand that private industry, left to its own devices, is not likely (is, in fact, extremely unlikely) to fund the R&D required to build the next generation of space transportation system. Getting to LEO is a big, big project. Much bigger than the trans-continental railways. Private corporations do not have the vision required for long term investment on this scale. They have quarterly numbers to meet, impatient and risk averse investors and managers.

I can give plenty of counter examples, including nearly all of the "new space" companies who are spending altogether nearly a billion dollars in original R&D this past year. Indeed nearly all that private industry is doing right now in commercial spaceflight is R&D.

Yes, getting to LEO was a big project equivalent to the trans-continental railroad... when it was done for the first time. But now that we know that orbital environment and what it takes to get there, it is more like building the other trans-continental railroads like the Southern Pacific and the Northern routes.... both that were paid completely with private funds (although some public lands were given to the railroad companies in exchange for building those routes).

Frankly, from what I've seen, it is easier and cheaper to build a company who designs and launches rockets capable of low-earth orbit vehicles than it is to create an automobile company that has to meet safety, and environmental standards if you were to start from scratch today.

I don't want to list the companies because any list would be incomplete, but there are now more than a couple dozen companies who are building launchers... including a couple that already have put things into orbit. SpaceX and Orbital Science have both put paid commercial payloads into orbit.... not something insignificant, and both companies built these rockets with largely private funds.

I don't buy this argument at all, and there is a wealth of evidence to the contrary that private individuals will spend their own money for rocket research. We don't need the government to screw up the picture any more than it has, and certainly what is needed instead is to get the government bureaucrats and lawyers who want to over-regulate this industry out of the way so even more private R&D can happen.

Re:role of private industry and government (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#28976989)

Oh, I think it's certainly possible for private industry to fund this. However, I think it's highly unlikely. You can discount all the funding that's going into sub-orbital flights. That's a separate "vomit comet" tourism industry which isn't really helping to advance the technologies required for space access, and are not designed to do so, despite the marketing hype. That appears to be about half the billion dollars a year. The companies actually trying to get to orbit are part of a long series of under-funded efforts. Most of those companies are trying to develop systems which reduce costs slightly below the Delta and Atlas levels, and are not trying to significantly advance the state of the art.

Your arguments have prompted me to realize something else, however. The amount of venture capital available to fund stuff like this has clearly increased over the past 50 years. As the economy continues to grow, the funding required to build a launch system, expressed as a percentage of GDP declines. It might well be the case that it's "inevitable" as some say that private industry will pave the road to space. I'm still convinced that this can be accelerated by a more intelligent government involvement. NASA unfortunately has a long track record of screwing this up. (They've done other things well.)

Re:role of private industry and government (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#28978425)

I'm still convinced that this can be accelerated by a more intelligent government involvement. NASA unfortunately has a long track record of screwing this up. (They've done other things well.)

It is surprising how much is being funded toward orbital flight. Richard Branson at the last Oshkosh air show hinted that he and Burt Rutan are currently in discussions about an orbital vehicle. SpaceX clearly has an operational orbital vehicle (in the Falcon 1) and is doing research to move to the Falcon 9 with the Dragon vehicle. All the NASA funding has done is to give a guaranteed customer and help speed up the process, as the Falcon 9 was announced and engineering was started well before the COTS contracts. There are other companies going for LEO, but admittedly the sub-orbital flights are where most of the money is at for now for things that are new in space.

Some of the really remarkable genuine progress is with more innovative fuel sources like has happened with the Lunar Landing Challenge... particularly the work in Hydrogen Peroxide and Peroxide/Kerosene motors. It is unfortunate that ATF regulations since 9/11 have put a real tight collar on potential research in this area of non-cryogenic rocket fuels.

As for more intelligent government involvement, it is too bad that NASA hasn't expanded the role of the Centennial Prizes... or for that matter had Congress appropriate any more money into the Centennial Prize fund. For the most recent fiscal year, Congress appropriated absolutely nothing for any new prizes (but they did keep existing prizes in tact). Newt Gingrich... right before he was ousted from his speakership.... had written legislation and was going through the process to put the bill on the floor to have a prize worth $10 billion to land somebody on the Moon in a sort of beefed up X-Prize. Considering that the Orion/Ares program is going to cost on the order of $100 billion before all is said and done to do the same thing, it seems now like a bargain if that had been done back in the 1990's. If I recall correctly, there were even consolation prizes for second and third place.... just to make sure that competitors for a private spaceflight mission to the Moon would try to continue their efforts even if somebody beat them out.

NASA also needs to return to the hard-core R&D that it does best. NASA research into innovative propulsion systems like nuclear rocketry, ion engines, and plasma rockets like the VASMIR are things that legitimately could use even existing government bureaucracies that exist within NASA. These sort of hard core basic principle research is the sort of thing that a government research grant is useful for. Building yet another launch system like the Ares isn't something that builds on the strengths of NASA and is IMHO something legitimate to rip NASA apart on... particularly when they are cutting basic research programs to support the development budget for a launcher that is at best a mediocre and pork-barrel laden project.

What if... (1)

bmimatt (1021295) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973381)

What would they look like if NASA was a private company with publicly traded stock?  I wonder if they would be closer to Google or BestBuy...  There would be some serious speculation going prior to each shuttle launch and it would be at least fun to watch climb and (free)fall.

M./

Remind me again (1)

ICLKennyG (899257) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973441)

How does one manufacture a design?

This summary is so laden with buzzwords and catch phrases that it's very likely that the above comments are right in that it's just an economic bailout to government contractors.

I'm waiting for a company like Toyota... (1)

SilasMortimer (1612867) | more than 4 years ago | (#28973765)

...to decide to get in on this. If so, we'll wind up further behind than ever.

For all the carping going on, (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#28974541)

This MAY be useful. Several different concepts for SMALL companies MIGHT be able to re-start RD programs and take them further. In particular, I am thinking that DreamChaser could benefit from this. Likewise, t-space would be a possibility. A possibility is that it would speed up SS3. The thought is that we already have several launchers and are about to gain more. If we have several different crew transports available to us and various launchers, then we will not be locked out of space. 50 million, let alone a portion of it, is not really enough for large companies like Boeing and LMart to do studies, let alone active development.

Just give it all to Virgin Galactic (1)

iHal (1213402) | more than 4 years ago | (#28974757)

They should just give it all to Virgin Galactic. In a couple of months these guys will probably be sending NASA advertisements for an international spaces station commuter shuttle (filmed on location in space). http://www.virgingalactic.com/ [virgingalactic.com] http://science.slashdot.org/story/09/07/31/1359243/White-Knight-Two-Unveiled?art_pos=1 [slashdot.org]

Re:Just give it all to Virgin Galactic (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#28975407)

So, you think that the SS2 will get to the ISS? the fact that SS2 will only orbit at 60 miles, while the ISS is between 200-300 miles will not matter? When SS3 comes out from Scaled Composites (and not virgin), then let us know. Keep in mind that virgin will be nothing more than an spaceliner. Scaled will be selling their SS3 and WK2 to other companies as well, once the traffic is developed. As to SS2, perhaps one to two other companies will be developed, but not likely.

Re:Just give it all to Virgin Galactic (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 4 years ago | (#28975677)

SS2 will only orbit at 60 miles

SS2 isn't going to orbit at all--it's not even close. It'll get up to 60 miles, but it will come right back down again--think throwing a baseball into the air. All it will do is a suborbital lob.

For that matter, I don't even think you'll get a stable orbit at 60 miles. Aerodynamic drag will still be fairly significant; at most, you'll get an orbit or two before it decays.

If you can reach a stable orbit, going a little bit higher (to hit ISS, for example) is pretty trivial compared to the trouble of reaching orbit at all.

Re:Just give it all to Virgin Galactic (1)

iHal (1213402) | more than 4 years ago | (#28976169)

I suppose all this is true right now. But this company is obviously investing a lot of money and research, very early on, in developing an infrastructure to get people into space. I wonder what will be going on after another 15 to 20 years of this ;)

Re:Just give it all to Virgin Galactic (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#28980203)

Every year Clark Lindsay does an analysis of current trends in commercial spaceflight and projects what he thinks things will look like 5, 10, 15 years down the road. It's a cool read:

http://www.hobbyspace.com/AAdmin/archive/SpecialTopics/toSpaceTimeLine.html [hobbyspace.com]

Alternate submission, with more links (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#28975123)

The accepted submission on this story was pretty good, although here's the one I wrote up, which has a few more relevant links. In particular, the first link, to an article by Alan Boyle on MSNBC, is probably the best summary of this I've seen so far:

NASA Begins Commercial Crew Initiative

NASA is using an initial $50M [msn.com] to 'stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities.' NASA originally planned to use $150M, which was blocked by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) [spacepolitics.com] until it was largely redirected to the ~$35B Ares rocket program based at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. The Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO) [nasa.gov] will reward multiple competitive contracts, with the goals of promoting job growth, lowering the cost of spaceflight [venturebeat.com] , and helping reduce the post-Shuttle gap in US human spaceflight capability.

A is for Apple, J is for Jack (1)

droidsURlooking4 (1543007) | more than 4 years ago | (#28975139)

Cinnamon toasty Apple Jacks. They could easily add cereal commercials to their transmissions. Brilliant!

YOU FAIL IyT. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28975929)

Yea, NASA (1)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 4 years ago | (#28985819)

Thirty years after Armstrong set foot on the moon, we're still hanging around in a tin can that can barely save itself from crashing back to Earth. Surely, NASA must be put in the same league as the Duke Nukem team for pure, wang-pulling jackoffery.

Could they sell the ISS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28993809)

Why not sell the International Space Station when they are done with it, instead of de-orbiting it?

Couldn't you get 10+ billion for that sucker?

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