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Astronaut Group Endorses Commercial Spaceflight

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the airforce-must-hold-bake-sale dept.

NASA 144

FleaPlus writes "Buzz Aldrin and twelve other astronauts have published a joint endorsement of commercial human spaceflight, stating that 'while it's completely appropriate for NASA to continue developing systems and the new technologies necessary to take crews farther out into our solar system, [the astronauts] believe that the commercial sector is fully capable of safely handling the critical task of low-Earth-orbit human transportation.' They are confident that commercial systems (which NASA already relies on for launching multibillion-dollar science payloads) can provide a level of safety equal to the Russian Soyuz and higher than the Space Shuttle, while strengthening US economic competitiveness. They also support the expected endorsement of the White House's Augustine Commission regarding NASA's use of commercial spaceflight — the Commission's final report will be released today." And here's the Augustine report itself (PDF).

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lol (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29839779)

LOL!

The Augustine report ? (3, Informative)

Cochonou (576531) | more than 4 years ago | (#29839833)

Is the link to the Augustine report expected to be a joke ? It appears to be a link to Windows 7 from here.

Re:The Augustine report ? (3, Funny)

frankmu (68782) | more than 4 years ago | (#29839861)

Well, slashdot has to pay the bills too, ya know.

Re:The Augustine report ? (5, Informative)

The-Pheon (65392) | more than 4 years ago | (#29839875)

The Real link is here:
Final Report [nasa.gov]

Re:The Augustine report ? (1)

Cochonou (576531) | more than 4 years ago | (#29839919)

Thanks for the link !

Re:The Augustine report ? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29839889)

that should teach you to (attempt to) read the article.

Re:The Augustine report ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29839923)

Is the link to the Augustine report expected to be a joke ? It appears to be a link to Windows 7 from here.

Paging Buzz Aldrin, article submitter needs an ass-kicking :)

Re:The Augustine report ? (3, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840703)

Paging Buzz Aldrin, article submitter needs an ass-kicking :)

Hey, don't look at me! The report wasn't even released when I submitted, so the bizarre Windows 7 link was added by one of the editors. :)

Here's my original submission [slashdot.org] .

ob (2, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#29839847)

"the commercial sector is fully capable of safely handling the critical task of low-Earth-orbit human transportation"

Well it's not rocket science, is it?

Re:ob (1)

gblackwo (1087063) | more than 4 years ago | (#29839897)

It's not brain surgery

Re:ob (3, Insightful)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840229)

No, its rocket engineering.

The first time its proving the science of the fundamental principals at incredible risk, and is a prime fit for government development. The second time its just trying to engineer it better and cheaper -- a better job for competitive enterprise.

Re:ob (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840591)

Are you related to Werner Von Braun, by any chance?

Re:ob (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841311)

Yeah, its not rocket surgery!

Perhaps Buzz cares for a different reason? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29839929)

Perhaps Buzz hopes that the people shot into space will take pictures of the aliens with their camera phones?

Re:Perhaps Buzz cares for a different reason? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29840429)

why would aliens have camera phones?

Re:Perhaps Buzz cares for a different reason? (4, Funny)

Z1NG (953122) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840469)

Man, Buzz Aldrin will punch you in the face.

Re:Perhaps Buzz cares for a different reason? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840667)

Unfortunately for the rest of us, Buzz's attempt to make punching idiots in the face a fashionable pass time failed.

Re:Perhaps Buzz cares for a different reason? (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841327)

Unfortunately for the rest of us, Buzz's attempt to make punching idiots in the face a fashionable pass time failed.

Perhaps it isn't a fashionable pastime for you [badassoftheweek.com] .

Space debris concern... (4, Interesting)

gapagos (1264716) | more than 4 years ago | (#29839943)

Are private companies are as concerned about minimizing space debris [wikipedia.org] as NASA and the FKA?
The more space flights we have, the greater of a problem it becomes.

Re:Space debris concern... (3, Insightful)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840187)

They don't want their rockets to go *BOOM* any more than NASA does. Perhaps even less so, since they may be financially liable.

Re:Space debris concern... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29844039)

Companies don't want their air and water polluted any more than anyone else. And yet they still pollute whenever they can get away with it. If someone can make a quick buck by externalising environmental costs (that's marketese for ignoring their responsibilities), they will. They will even pay for laws to better enable this externalisation.

Remember that many big CEOs aren't looking further than a few quarters into the future. If they can make a huge killing (pun intended) and then get the hell out with their bonuses and stock options and golden parachutes and whatever the hell else before the shit hits the fan, they will. The financial crisis is evidence of that. How many of the people responsible for that mess paid the price for their greed and incompetence? And how many of them are still getting huge salaries and bonuses, and government bailouts, and stock options, and the pick of high-paid directorships, and cushy jobs in QANGOes? They can get away with it, so they will do it, and those few of them in possession of a functioning conscience will dream up some twisted, Rayndian justification that allows them to sleep soundly at night.
How much do you think they care, or even acknowledge, that they fucked over millions of others, causing homelessness and poverty and misery and suicide?

Do you really think some big-shot new CEO couldn't waltz into the top job at Launch-U-Like and cut out all the Kessler-syndrome-costs (ignoring the objections of their engineers) and enjoy massive profits for 18 months, and then fuck off to screw up some other company in an unrelated industry, while LEO turns into a giant pinball-multiball arena? They won't care about the spacecraft falling out of the sky because they will be able to afford gold-plated, diamond-encrusted concrete umbrellas to hide beneath.

I'm all angry now. Sometimes I wish I was ignorant enough to not know or care about things I cannot change.

Re:Space debris concern... (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#29844117)

Do you really think some big-shot new CEO couldn't waltz into the top job at Launch-U-Like and cut out all the Kessler-syndrome-costs (ignoring the objections of their engineers) and enjoy massive profits for 18 months, and then fuck off to screw up some other company in an unrelated industry, while LEO turns into a giant pinball-multiball arena? They won't care about the spacecraft falling out of the sky because they will be able to afford gold-plated, diamond-encrusted concrete umbrellas to hide beneath.

There's no money for that kind of game. The people in space launch right now either launch mostly at the behest of the US government or they are losing money. This big shot CEO wouldn't be interested.

Re:Space debris concern... (2, Insightful)

Narishma (822073) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841085)

Look at the bright side. If space debris becomes such a big problem someone is bound to start a company to try making money cleaning it. A kind of space janitor if you will.

Re:Space debris concern... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29841251)

Yeah, it's going to be just like how some people today are making significant amounts of money cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch...

Re:Space debris concern... (3, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841703)

A kind of space janitor if you will.

This can only be a good thing. We're going to need all the space janitors we can get in case the Sariens attack.

Re:Space debris concern... (2, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 4 years ago | (#29843541)

Look at the bright side. If space debris becomes such a big problem someone is bound to start a company to try making money cleaning it. A kind of space janitor if you will.

And since space is basically a public area - that is, not owned by anyone - guess who's going to be paying that company? Monopoly rates with no requirements for results, of course.

Re:Space debris concern... (3, Informative)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841387)

My understanding is that debris in LEO isn't so much of an issue because it's orbit will decay relatively quickly and it will then burn up on reentry. It is also much easier to track.

If we get a major debris problem in GEO though then afaict that would be a huge problem.

Re:Space debris concern... (1, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841521)

Are private companies are as concerned about minimizing space debris as NASA and the FKA?

The US is obligated by treaty to minimize space debris, so yes - private industry has been concerned about launch debris and has been for years, lest they not get a launch permit.
 
 

The more space flights we have, the greater of a problem it becomes.

You do know that less than half of the launches in the US annually are government launches, and less than half of those are NASA launches?

Re:Space debris concern... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29842007)

A profitable industry to set up would be profitable because capturing the debris would enable reuse of rocket engines that would normally have to be fished out of the oceans, or be destroyed upon reentry.
Plus this industry could lead technology to cheaper means that stop asteroids and comets from damaging the earth.

Keeping the orbits clear would be high priority for any long term company
They could be liable for damages caused by their derbies, which would offer extra incentive to the industry.

And I am sure some of us hope that a "Cash for Space Clunkers" would be absent from the industries, since NASA is reluctant to take responsibility.

It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (4, Informative)

ausoleil (322752) | more than 4 years ago | (#29839973)

This will not go over well in Huntsville. In fact, it already hasn't. [orlandosentinel.com]

"Republican Senator Richard Shelby launched a preemptive strike on President Barack Obama's blue ribbon space panel ther day before its due to release its final report, calling the committee's findings "worthless." Shelby, a staunch defender of NASA's Marshal Space Flight Center In Huntsville, Alabama, said in a Senate floor speech that the committee failed to consider safety when it ranked various rocket options for the White House to consider. "Without an honest and thorough examination of the safety and reliability aspects of the various designs and options for manned space flight, the findings of this report are worthless," said Shelby."

Senator Shelby, obviously a noted rocket expert, contradicts former Shuttle astronauts Sally Ride and Leroy Chiao. Undoubtedly he astronaut safety at every step of the process with little regard to politics while they as former astronauts were completely unconcerned with it.

Speaking of unconcerned, apparently President Obama is exactly that in regards to NASA. New NASA Administrator Charles Bolden hopes to meet with Obama before end of year on agency future. [al.com]

On top of all of that, it seems that Altair, the lunar lander from the Constellation project has been defunded. [nasaspaceflight.com]

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (4, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840215)

The ARES I has serious safety issues. Thrust Oscillation will shake the astronauts like no other rocket in history. Also, they are launched with higher G forces. Simulations show there are certain points during the liftoff process where the launch abort system (which is supposed to pull the Orion crew module clear of the rocket in case of disaster) cannot pull the module clear of the expected debris field. In other words if ARES-I suffers an abort condition at the wrong time, the Orion will wind up parachuting through the expanding fireball of burning fuel, burning and/or melting away the parachutes. It won't be just loss of mission, it will be loss of crew. Add in the fact that ARES-I is designed to lift the Orion into an orbit with a NEGATIVE PERIGEE, unless the Orion itself circularizes its orbit. Also, they've been trimming Orion left, right, and center in order to get it light enough so "the Stick" can lift it. This means cutting crew, cutting land based landing, cutting crew comforts (eg toilets) and cutting safety gear. I shudder to think what needs to be cut in order to get a beefier launch abort system in place.

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (4, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840799)

Add in the fact that ARES-I is designed to lift the Orion into an orbit with a NEGATIVE PERIGEE, unless the Orion itself circularizes its orbit. Also, they've been trimming Orion left, right, and center in order to get it light enough so "the Stick" can lift it. This means cutting crew, cutting land based landing, cutting crew comforts (eg toilets) and cutting safety gear.

It's particularly ironic when you consider that in NASA's ESAS study which selected the internal Ares I design over commercial launch vehicles, the safety standards were tweaked so that the Ares I design was the only one which could satisfy the absurdly high standards. Of course, it now looks like Ares can't actually satisfy those standards, and the mass trim-backs may well result in a system considerably more dangerous than the commercial alternatives.

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (1)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840811)

The ARES I has serious safety issues.

None that wouldn't have turned up in any other new rocket design.

Simulations show there are certain points during the liftoff process where the launch abort system (which is supposed to pull the Orion crew module clear of the rocket in case of disaster) cannot pull the module clear of the expected debris field.

The Launch Abort System didn't even exist on the Shuttle or Saturn rockets. It may not be 100% effective, but it doesn't need to be to at least provide a measure of additional safety.

There are much better arguments against the Ares I. Like why it needs to be done at all when it has similar capabilities to the Delta IV, Falcon 9, or one of the number of shuttle-derived concepts out there.

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (4, Informative)

ckaminski (82854) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840919)

RE: No Saturn abort modes

What plan do you live on? Apollo absolutely had an on-launch abort capability.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=1&ved=0CAwQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FApollo_abort_modes&ei=uNrgSpTHJtqutgea8bntDA&usg=AFQjCNHlUg79yJTq58OGwqbPC-AERMlXJA&sig2=xoBr6SYGsr9ZfaSgty98xQ

Ever see that giant pointy think sticking off the top of the Apollo capsule? Yeah, rocket assisted abort. :-)

http://a.abcnews.com/images/GMA/ld_sr_01_080421_ssv.jpg

Atlas and Delta don't have the Pogoing problem Ares I does. Neither would Direct 2.0.

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29841263)

Ares I is a solid rocket: no pogoing (no positive feedback between thrust oscillations and inlet pressure of the turbopumps). It does suffer from brutal thrust oscillations, but this isn't usually called "pogo".

See this pretty good discussion: http://yarchive.net/space/rocket/pogo.html

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (2, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#29843189)

Oversimplifying a bit... Suppose combustion-chamber pressure surges a bit for some reason. That increases back pressure against the fuel coming in, which slows fuel flow. That reduces chamber pressure, which lets the flow pick up again, etc. There are also less direct interactions, e.g. greater chamber pressure means greater thrust and higher acceleration, which boosts hydrostatic head of fuel coming down from the tanks and tends to increase flow. Lots of feedback loops that might oscillate.

Now, if the natural frequency of one of those potential oscillations happens to match a resonant frequency of the vehicle or the fuel-feed system... you get oscillation, potentially violent (several Gs), at relatively low frequencies, typically a few Hz. That's Pogo.

The way to cure Pogo is to add some damping to the cycle, typically by adding a surge absorber to the plumbing -- just a chamber with liquid in the bottom and gas in the top, connected to the plumbing, so surges in pressure push liquid in and out against the gas pressure rather than being communicated to the engine. Modern rockets typically have such Pogo suppressors built in from the start; for example, the SSME has a Pogo suppressor in its LOX feed (LH2 is too light and too compressible to be much of a problem -- it supplies its own damping), and has never had a Pogo problem.

Interesting stuff there.

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (5, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841021)

The ARES I has serious safety issues.

None that wouldn't have turned up in any other new rocket design.

Actually, the nastiest safety issues with the Ares I are a direct result of the design decision by former administrator Mike Griffin to use a single gigantic solid rocket motor as the first stage. It turns out there's a really good reason (or rather, many good reasons) that nobody's used such a design for a manned rocket before. I'm sure given enough time and money ($35 billion is the latest cost estimate) the excellent engineers at NASA can create workarounds for the inherent design problems, but I'd imagine their time and effort could be much better spent.

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29842079)

Hmmm. I think that the 35 billion is for BOTH Ares I and V, NOT ares I.

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (2, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29842551)

Hmmm. I think that the 35 billion is for BOTH Ares I and V, NOT ares I.

I've been double-checking, and it doesn't seem to be. In fact, it looks like the estimates are higher now. From a recent GAO report (although this does include the Orion cost as well):

http://www.hobbyspace.com/nucleus/?itemid=15541 [hobbyspace.com]
http://gao.gov/products/GAO-09-844 [gao.gov]

Nevertheless, NASA estimates that Ares I and Orion represent up to $49 billion of the over $97 billion estimated to be spent on the Constellation program through 2020. While the agency has already obligated more than $10 billion in contracts, at this point NASA does not know how much Ares I and Orion will ultimately cost, and will not know until technical and design challenges have been addressed.

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (5, Informative)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841419)

None that wouldn't have turned up in any other new rocket design.

There are three big safety issues that appear precisely because of the choice of an solid rocket motor (SRM) derived from the Shuttle solid rocket boosters (SRB). First, thrust oscillation is a problem with solid rocket motors because of their design. The SRM has a chamber prior to ejection through the nozzle. Certain vorticies resonate with this chamber and this vibration is then transmitted to the rest of the vehicle.

Now you may ask, if all solid rocket motors have thrust oscillation and the SRM is Shuttle-derived, why isn't the Shuttle affected? The answer is that it would be except for the clever way in which the SRBs are attached to the rest of the Shuttle stack. Effectively, both SRBs are attached to each end of a giant bar. The external tank only connects to this bar at two points which as I understand it are null points of the thrust oscillation vibration (which is very predictable). So as a result, little of the vibration is actually transmitted to the rest of the Shuttle. This only works because we have a pair of boosters that are attached only in a couple of spots to the rest of the vehicle. It doesn't work for the Ares I because the second stage has to be mounted on top of the SRM. End result is a great deal of vibration (how much we'll see in a few days). There are various solutions for dampening the vibration, but these cost mass or thrust. Neither is a problem with liquid propellant rockets like the EELVs.

Moving on, the second problem is the aspect of the Ares I. It has a wide second stage and a narrow first stage. This is precisely a consequence of the choice of the SRM as the first stage. The problem is that since SRMs have to go through a railroad tunnel when they're being shipped from Utah, they cannot be wider than they currently are. So the Ares I has an increased chance of bumping the launch tower at launch due to wind gusts. The limited width of the first stage also limits the performance of the vehicle leading to the third problem.

The third problem is that the launch of the Ares I has been made safer at the expense of the rest of the mission. This doesn't have much consequence for LEO missions since there is some performance margin to use up. But lunar missions are very tight on mass. So the performance loss from thrust oscillation mitigation or other problems comes by taking weight away from the payload, here the Orion vehicle. Further, the first stage is already as large as it can be, so there's no additional performance to be gained from the first stage. That means in turn that compromise of the safety of the Orion vehicle, namely removal of some redundancy of the vehicle, has to occur in order for the Ares I to lift it. Since for lunar missions, most of the risk is in the mission not in the launch, this means that we're increasing the overall risk of the mission merely to continue to use the Ares I.

The Launch Abort System didn't even exist on the Shuttle or Saturn rockets. It may not be 100% effective, but it doesn't need to be to at least provide a measure of additional safety.

This reminds me that there is a fourth safety advantage of other rockets than solids. In case of full rupture and conflagration of the first stage, a liquid rocket burns slower than a solid. That means lower heat on the escape vehicle and a greater chance of survival for the crew.

There are much better arguments against the Ares I. Like why it needs to be done at all when it has similar capabilities to the Delta IV, Falcon 9, or one of the number of shuttle-derived concepts out there.

This is my primary objection to the Ares I as well. There are two near future commercial rockets, the "EELVs", Delta IV Heavy, which flies now, and Atlas V Heavy (which would be based on a modification of the Atlas V which flies now). So we're ignoring rockets which fly now in exchange for paper rockets which as we've seen don't work as advertised. NASA should never be in direct competition with private launch services. It gives them too much incentive to undermine the competition.

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (2, Interesting)

demachina (71715) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841955)

Great post. Just curious. Is there some actual physical reason you can think of preventing them from making SRM's in Florida so they could make them any size? I'm assuming the actual answer is Orrin Hatch, extremely powerful Senator from Utah, will kill any program where the SRM's aren't built in Utah and is probably supporting Ares precisely because it is keeping jobs in his state, even if its a horrible engineering choice. This country is doomed in science, engineering and tech if you make bad engineering decisions just to spread pork around. I've pretty much decided the U.S. Senate is an epic FAIL because one senator can often single handedly kill any program they oppose.

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29842593)

I've pretty much decided the U.S. Senate is an epic FAIL because one senator can often single handedly kill any program they oppose.

For a more recent example of this, this past year NASA wanted to spend $150 million stimulus funds on jump-starting development of spacecraft for commercial crew to the ISS. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) put up a fuss and threatened all of NASA's stimulus funding, until they diverted $100M of the funds to the Constellation program based in his state, leaving only $50 million to get commercial crew started. Article:
http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2009-07-03/news/shelby_1_rocket-constellation-space-shuttle [orlandosentinel.com]

The release of the Augustine Report is just the beginning of some very nasty political battles.

It's reckoning (1)

Yergle143 (848772) | more than 4 years ago | (#29842675)

Interesting post in that we're going to have some data come in soon. Not only will rocket choice be a factor but the impacter on the moon may reveal whether "Destination Moon" is worth it or whether it's as dry as a bone up there.

Yeah (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840279)

ol dick would NEVER put jobs ahead of NASA lives. Nah. Never. hehehehehehehe

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840371)

I really like these recent comments from Jeff Greason, definitely my favorite member of the Augustine Committee, regarding launch safety:

http://www.spacepolitics.com/2009/10/22/a-question-of-safety/ [spacepolitics.com]

The topic of safety same up Wednesday as well in a talk by Augustine committee member Jeff Greason at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in New Mexico. In the Q&A session after his speech, he was asked why the committee didn't endorse Constellation as the "most viable" option "even though from a safety and mission assurance standpoint it's clearly the best option." Greason said that safety and mission assurance was considered by the Augustine committee, but that goes beyond simply the choice of launch vehicles.

"Launch is a relatively small contributor to the safety and mission assurance" of human missions to the Moon and beyond. "It is not negligible, it is not something you want to forget about, but it does not dominate the loss of crew probabilities." Therefore, he said, it was a mistake to focus on further increasing the reliability of a relatively small aspect of overall mission risk, particularly if those choices lead you to take out safety systems in other components that because of mass restrictions. "These are false economies in terms of safety and mission assurance."

Greason was also skeptical about the probabilistic risk assessments used to estimate the safety of various proposed systems. Most launch failures are not from random types of events, he said, but instead failures of design, testing, procedure, and the like. "If it was built wrong, it doesn't work a lot of the time, no matter what you thought the probabilistic failure was." The only way to "buy down" those failures, he said, is though flight experience, which is why "real boosters" have lower reliabilities than estimated when they were "paper boosters" still in the design phase.

"And the truth is, Ares 1 is, right now, a paper booster," Greason continued. "And the further truth is, its projected launch rate is extremely low, so it will never get out of 'infant mortality,'" that initial phase of non-probabilistic failures. "Even if Ares 1 were built exactly as planned, we would never find out whether its mature probabilistic risk assessment was or was not achievable as planned, because we would never get through the phase of life where we're supposed to work out all the teething problems."

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (2, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841917)

The only way to "buy down" those failures, he said, is though flight experience, which is why "real boosters" have lower reliabilities than estimated when they were "paper boosters" still in the design phase.

This is one of the biggest arguments in favour of the DIRECT architecture. They are using existing shuttle hardware: existing motors, existing tanks, existing SRBs, etc. which bring with them 30+ years of flight data, and experienced ground crews, manufacturing crews, safety crews, and management crews.

Re:It's Been a Bad Week For NASA (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840479)

Amusing since the report does explicitly discuss safety. Particularly it focuses on two topics: it considers astronaut safety as sine qua non, and says that its impossible to predict 'infant mortality' safety of any launch vehicle.

The first means that they simply refuse any plan that can't be done with a strong expectation of safety.

The second means that its impossible to analyze the initial safety of a paper rocket, and personally I'd love to see the Senator try. You can analyze safety from a PRA perspective (analyzing likelihood of failed components), as opposed to unexpected failure modes, but the report points out that PRA failures have never brought down a manned spacecraft. Unexpected failure modes are just that, unexpected, and as such can't be analyzed properly.

Questionable Spin (3, Informative)

swanzilla (1458281) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840109)

FTA

In polls, a huge percent of the American people support the space program. It costs each of us around 7 cents a day. I think most people would be willing to pay that, to have a human space flight program.

Way off...bear with me here U.S. population appx 300,000,000 x Percentage of population who pay taxes 55
gives us 165,000,000 taxpayers
the NASA budget is $17,600,000,000 / yr, divided between those taxpayers yeilds roughly %106/yr, or roughly 30 cents /day.

Did I miss something?

Re:Questionable Spin (4, Insightful)

gblackwo (1087063) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840165)

Now compare it to the defense budget for fun.

Re:Questionable Spin (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29840607)

I guy I knew once said, "if you canceled NASA, the whole of their budget couldn't pay for the Mahogany desk polishing fund at the Pentagon and have enough left over to feed a homeless cat, let alone solve world hunger."

Re:Questionable Spin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29842887)

now compare to the Medicare budget for fun.

Re:Questionable Spin (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29843897)

We have a defense budget for fun?

Re:Questionable Spin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29844225)

Or compare it to the war on poverty.

Re:Questionable Spin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29840169)

Costs about as much as a child sponsorship. Maybe we can send them to space (and save ourselves the 30 cents later)?

Re:Questionable Spin (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841335)

Costs about as much as a child sponsorship. Maybe we can send them to space (and save ourselves the 30 cents later)?

But the real question is, where do we donate?!?

Re:Questionable Spin (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840343)

If you consider the full 300M population* and only the cost of human space flight (about half of the total NASA budget) then the numbers line up pretty well.

Of course, considering that the polls the report refers to refer to both manned and unmanned exploration, this seems slightly dishonest, but not ridiculously out of line.

* If you're going to be restricting it to those paying taxes, you should probably also consider the income distribution of those paying taxes, and that the median tax load is going to be less than the average tax load, as far as I know

Re:Questionable Spin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29841565)

Don't forget that not all taxpayers are human. Time to count businesses, too!

Re:Questionable Spin (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29840367)

What you expect to happen:

Government: "Hey, guys, you know that whole space exploration thing we have? That thing that has in the past and could in the future do one hell of a lot of good for humanity and has advanced technology quite wildly before? Well, turns out it costs money. If we split it up, it's around an extra $110/year. How about it?"
People: "Sure! That's a pretty paltry amount to pay. Would be nice to actually have advancements in our culture so that the rest of the world doesn't mock us quite as often as they do!"

What Reality(tm) says will happen:

Government: "Hey, guys, you know that whole space exploration thing we have? That thing-"
Stupid people: "ZOMG moon == hoax and government == EVIL EVIL they take money and I GET NOTHINGZ why should I ever give you ANYTHING U DUM POLTICANS hate hate hat"
Government: "But... but it's only around 30 cents/day... what-"
Stupid people: "SEE TAHT they want to take mah moneiz and my jobs and I *degrades into incoherence and shotgun blasts*"

Sorry, man, but stupid people are stubborn people. The dark ages were a good time for them.

Re:Questionable Spin (2, Funny)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840635)

Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get me.

Re:Questionable Spin (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841351)

Government: "But... but it's only around 30 cents/day... what-"

Hey man, 30 cents is like their entire week's income.

Re:Questionable Spin (1)

Nethead (1563) | more than 4 years ago | (#29842327)

They took our jobs!

Re:Questionable Spin (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29843951)

Would be nice to actually have advancements in our culture so that the rest of the world doesnt mock us quite as often as they do!

That is a poor rationale for spending huge amounts of money. PS I don't know what fantasy world you live in, but avoiding mockery by foreigners is not exactly a priority of the American people. Substitute "French" or any other nationality and find how stupid that sounds.

Re:Questionable Spin (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840389)

You misunderstood the "a huge percent", what they really mean is 1%.

And the 7 cents a day is actually in Canadian Dollars.

Re:Questionable Spin (1)

2short (466733) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840461)


I love the way they conflate "the space program" with "human space flight".

Outsourcing launches of humans to low earth orbit to the private commercial sector sounds like a fine idea, even though they've never done it before.

Even better would be outsourcing the task of deciding if any particular task in LEO is best served by launching a human, because maybe there is a good reason they've never done it before.

Re:Questionable Spin (1)

Truth is life (1184975) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841303)

I love the way they conflate "the space program" with "human space flight".

You do realize they're called the "Review of US HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT Plans Committee"...right?

Outsourcing launches of humans to low earth orbit to the private commercial sector sounds like a fine idea, even though they've never done it before.

Yeah, why haven't they done it before? Oh right, there's never been a private organization that could! *eyerolls* Of course, maybe if you consider that they actually recommend doing that as a backup/potential future replacement for NASA LEO launches, not just outsourcing everything...

Even better would be outsourcing the task of deciding if any particular task in LEO is best served by launching a human, because maybe there is a good reason they've never done it before.

Oh yeah, like never having had the money! Face it, there really isn't a lot of knowledge about the appropriate and useful level of human involvement in space activities. Between high costs and not actually doing a whole lot with astronauts, we just can't say whether most tasks are best done by robots or people.

Re:Questionable Spin (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840465)

or you could look at it as being about 0.4% of the budget. or about what we spent in Iraq last month.

Re:Questionable Spin (1)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 4 years ago | (#29843473)

Just did a rough calculation and that's almost 3 times more than what Norway spend per taxpayer per day.

You win!

No, thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29840347)

Commercial spaceflights ? Call me old fashioned (and it won't be the first time) but I'll take a ultracapacitor-powered bus [slashdot.org] , thank you.

Summary of Augustine Report (4, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840675)

For some reason the link for the Augustine Report seems to be going to a download for Windows 7 (Huh?!?), so here's the actual link [nasa.gov] (mirror [spaceref.com] ).

Here's the main report findings from the PDF:

Summary of Principal Findings

The Committee summarizes its principal findings below. Additional findings are included in the body of the report.

The right mission and the right size: NASA's budget should match its mission and goals. Further, NASA should be given the ability to shape its organization and infrastructure accordingly, while maintaining facilities deemed to be of national importance.

International partnerships: The U.S. can lead a bold new international effort in the human exploration of space. If international partners are actively engaged, including on the "critical path" to success, there could be substantial benefits to foreign relations and more overall resources could become available to the human spaceflight program.

Short-term Space Shuttle planning: The remaining Shuttle manifest should be flown in a safe and prudent manner without undue schedule pressure. This manifest will likely extend operation into the second quarter of FY 2011. It is important to budget for this likelihood.

The human-spaceflight gap: Under current conditions, the gap in U.S. ability to launch astronauts into space will stretch to at least seven years. The Committee did not identify any credible approach employing new capabilities that could shorten the gap to less than six years. The only way to significantly close the gap is to extend the life of the Shuttle Program.

Extending the International Space Station: The return on investment to both the United States and our international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of the life of the ISS. A decision not to extend its operation would significantly impair U.S. ability to develop and lead future international spaceflight partnerships.

Heavy lift: A heavy-lift launch capability to low-Earth orbit, combined with the ability to inject heavy payloads away from the Earth, is beneficial to exploration. It will also be useful to the national security space and scientific communities. The Committee reviewed: the Ares family of launchers; Shuttle-derived vehicles; and launchers derived from the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle family. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, trading capability, life-cycle costs, maturity, operational complexity and the "way of doing business" within the program and NASA.

Commercial launch of crew to low-Earth orbit: Commercial services to deliver crew to low-Earth orbit are within reach. While this presents some risk, it could provide an earlier capability at lower initial and life-cycle costs than government could achieve. A new competition with adequate incentives to perform this service should be open to all U.S. aerospace companies. This would allow NASA to focus on more challenging roles, including human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit based on the continued development of the current or modified Orion spacecraft.

Technology development for exploration and commercial space: Investment in a well-designed and adequately funded space technology program is critical to enable progress in exploration. Exploration strategies can proceed more readily and economically if the requisite technology has been developed in advance. This investment will also benefit robotic exploration, the U.S. commercial space industry, the academic community and other U.S. government users.

Pathways to Mars: Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration of the inner solar system; but it is not the best first destination. Visiting the "Moon First" and following the "Flexible Path" are both viable exploration strategies. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive; before traveling to Mars, we could extend our presence in free space and gain experience working on the lunar surface.

Options for the human spaceflight program: The Committee developed five alternatives for the Human Spaceflight Program. It found:
* Human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit is not viable under the FY 2010 budget guideline.
* Meaningful human exploration is possible under a less constrained budget, increasing annual expenditures by approximately $3 billion in real purchasing power above the FY 2010 guidance.
* Funding at the increased level would allow either an exploration program to explore the Moon First or one that follows the Flexible Path. Either could produce significant results in a reasonable timeframe.

Also, a description of the destination options:

Future Destinations for Exploration

What is the strategy for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit?
Humans could embark on many paths to explore the inner solar system, most particularly the following:

* Mars First, with a Mars landing, perhaps after a brief test of equipment and procedures on the Moon.
* Moon First, with lunar surface exploration focused on developing the capability to explore Mars.
* A Flexible Path to inner solar system locations, such as lunar orbit, Lagrange points, near-Earth objects and the moons of Mars, followed by exploration of the lunar surface and/or Martian surface.

A human landing followed by an extended human presence on Mars stands prominently above all other opportunities for exploration. Mars is unquestionably the most scientifically interesting destination in the inner solar system, with a planetary history much like Earth's. It possesses resources that can be used for life support and propellants. If humans are ever to live for long periods on another planetary surface, it is likely to be on Mars. But Mars is not an easy place to visit with existing technology and without a substantial investment of resources. The Committee finds that Mars is the ultimate destination for human exploration of the inner solar system, but it is not the best first destination.

What about the Moon first, then Mars? By first exploring the Moon, we could develop the operational skills and technology for landing on, launching from and working on a planetary surface. In the process, we could acquire an understanding of human adaptation to another world that would one day allow us to go to Mars. There are two main strategies for exploring the Moon. Both begin with a few short sorties to various sites to scout the region and validate lunar landing and ascent systems. In one strategy, the next step would be to build a lunar base. Over many missions, a small colony of habitats would be assembled, and explorers would begin to live there for many months, conducting scientific studies and prospecting for resources to use as fuel. In the other strategy, sorties would continue to different sites, spending weeks and then months at each one. More equipment would have to be brought to the lunar surface on each trip, but more diverse sites would be explored and in greater detail.

There is a third possible path for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, which the Committee calls the Flexible Path. On this path, humans would visit sites never visited before and extend our knowledge of how to operate in space-- while traveling greater and greater distances from Earth. Successive missions would visit lunar orbit; the Lagrange points (special points in space that are important sites for scientific observations and the future space transportation infrastructure); and near-Earth objects (asteroids and spent comets that cross the Earth's path); and orbit around Mars. Most interestingly, humans could rendezvous with a moon of Mars, then coordinate with or control robots on the Martian surface, taking advantage of the relatively short communication times. At least initially, astronauts would not travel into the deep gravity wells of the lunar and Martian surface, deferring the cost of developing human landing and surface systems.

The Flexible Path represents a different type of exploration strategy. We would learn how to live and work in space, to visit small bodies, and to work with robotic probes on the planetary surface. It would provide the public and other stakeholders with a series of interesting "firsts" to keep them engaged and supportive. Most important, because the path is flexible, it would allow for many different options as exploration progresses, including a return to the Moon's surface or a continuation directly to the surface of Mars.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840917)

I really, really like the "Flexible Path Towards Mars" proposed by the Augustine Committee, which is detailed on page 40 of the report. For those unfamiliar with it, it stresses near-term exploration of a variety of targets in shallow gravity wells, ranging from Lagrangian points to the moons of Mars. I also rather like the table on page 41 of the report which describes the 8 different categories of destinations for Flexible Path (Lunar orbit, Earth-Moon L1, Earth-Sun L2, Earth-Sun L1, Near-Earth Objects, Mars Flyby, Mars Orbit, Martian Moons), and describes both possible ways to engage the public about each destination and possible scientific goals at each location.

The quick summary of Flexible Path, from the report PDF (bolding inserted by me):

3.5 THE FLEXIBLE PATH TO MARS

3.5.1 Overview. In addition to Mars First and Moon First, there is a third possibility for initial exploration beyond low-Earth orbit: visiting a series of locations and objects in the inner solar system, which the Committee calls the Flexible Path. (See Figure 3.5.1-1.) The goal is to take steps toward Mars, learning to live and work in free space and near planets, under the conditions humans will meet on the way to Mars. We must learn to operate in free space for hundreds of days, beyond the protective radiation belts of the Earth, before we can confidently commit to exploring Mars. Human exploration along the Flexible Path would also support science, create new industrial opportunities, and engage the public through progressively more challenging milestone accomplishments.

On this path, sites would be visited that humans have never reached before. Astronauts would learn to service spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit, much as crews successfully serviced the Hubble Space Telescope in low-Earth orbit. Humans could visit small bodies in space, such as near-Earth objects (asteroids and spent comets that cross the Earth's path, some of which could someday collide with the Earth - Figure 3.5.1-2) and the scientifically interesting moons of Mars, return samples, and understand their structure and composition. When humans would come close to the Moon or Mars, they could deploy probes and coordinate with or control robotic assets on the surface. They could even bring home samples from Mars that were launched from the surface by robotic spacecraft. In this way we could achieve the scientific "first" of a Mars sample return.

These destinations require the smallest energy expenditure beyond low-Earth orbit, but are of increasing distance and duration from Earth. The missions could include a full dress-rehearsal for a Mars mission, consisting of traveling to Mars orbit and returning hundreds of days later. The essential concept is that humans would first visit points in space and rendezvous with small bodies and orbit larger ones, without initially descending into the deep gravity wells of Mars or the Moon.

The Flexible Path is a road toward Mars, with intermediate destinations. At several points along the way, the off-ramp from the Flexible Path to a Moon exploration program could be taken. Alternatively, if new discoveries drew us to Mars, the lunar stop could be bypassed, leading directly to a Mars landing.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (5, Insightful)

Larson2042 (1640785) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841009)

Heavy lift: A heavy-lift launch capability to low-Earth orbit, combined with the ability to inject heavy payloads away from the Earth, is beneficial to exploration. It will also be useful to the national security space and scientific communities. The Committee reviewed: the Ares family of launchers; Shuttle-derived vehicles; and launchers derived from the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle family. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, trading capability, life-cycle costs, maturity, operational complexity and the "way of doing business" within the program and NASA.

I still don't understand the seeming obsession with heavy lift. Why develop and fly a new huge expensive rocket, putting all your payload eggs in one basket, rather than use a greater number of smaller, cheaper, existing rockets? The more rockets you fly, the more you have to build, and you can begin to take advantage of economies of scale and reduce the dollars per kg cost to orbit. Another advantage is that if your rocket does encounter some calamity, you don't lose your entire (much more expensive than the rocket itself) payload, but rather just a piece of it. Yes, flying your moon/mars/where-ever spacecraft into orbit a piece at a time means that you have to assemble it once you are up there, but that just puts into use all this lovely experience gained building the ISS. So, more light to medium lift: give it a chance.

Mod Parent Up!!! (2, Interesting)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841277)

Oh if only I had mod points. Larson hit the nail on the head with this one. Chemical rockets really do have a law of diminishing returns when it comes to cost vs. payload size. If we don't start moving to smaller, mass production type launch capability America's space program is going to stagnate more so than it already has (40 year moon anniversary anyone?).

That being said, let's hope some of the decision makers make a point to read slashdot and comments like this one...

Also, three cheers for the commercial space programs. SpaceX, I think you should lead the industry in a group hug =)

Re:Heavy-lift (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841385)

I agree. The claim that heavy-lift is truly necessary is somewhat hard for me to buy, although my suspicion is that suggesting otherwise would just be too big of a mindset change for NASA to handle. If they do have a heavy-lift system, I do hope they pick the EELV-derived heavy-lift, even if it'll be nigh-impossible politically -- congressmen have already started defensive maneuvers to try to protect the status quo. The main benefit of an EELV-derived system is that it minimizes the amount of specialized infrastructure you'd have to maintain, and since the EELV infrastructure is used for many medium-lift commercial launches you also wouldn't have to maintain a standing army of personnel specifically for the heavy-lift launcher. If it does indeed turn out that heavy-lift is unnecessary, you can simply scale back the number of heavy-lift launches; with the shuttle-derived heavy-lift, you have the pay the standing support army (the biggest part of the lifecycle cost) no matter how many launches you actually have.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (2, Interesting)

Truth is life (1184975) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841393)

Sure, we've just got lots of experience with building the Station--and it was a nightmare. Remember, the station largely derives from Freedom studies started as early as 1982. Conceptually, it's almost 30 years old. Even a lot of the hardware is 20+. There were huge overruns, and several major delays due to the Shuttle failing. Doing that with a Mars craft is not an option.

Economies of scale work both ways--sure, cheap, reliable, low-lift boosters are great, but there are important technical simplifications that you can make by launching everything in just one or two gos--not having to store cryogens in orbit, minimal assembly, more robust craft design--you can build your lunar lander or whatever in one big piece, and assemble it on Earth in carefully controlled, well-understood conditions, rather than in a dangerous, poorly-defined environment, for example--which might very well outweigh the benefits of low-ish launch costs. I'm also skeptical of any NASA effort to reduce launch costs directly. After all, the Shuttle was supposed to massively reduce launch costs, and look where that ended up. Now, they do support COTS, which may very well reduce launch costs some, but they aren't bending metal themselves.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (2, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841643)

Sure, we've just got lots of experience with building the Station--and it was a nightmare.

It's worth noting that a big part of the reason that the ISS was a nightmare is because building a station was only secondary to the goal of ensuring that funds went to the Russian space agency in order to prevent their rocket engineers from going to North Korea, Iran, etc. In addition, the ISS was also a big learning experience, and we've become substantially better at in-space assembly in the process.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (3, Insightful)

Truth is life (1184975) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841895)

And the Russians always felt they didn't have enough money! If some of the horror stories I've heard are true, they really, really didn't, either. Besides, about half the period I covered was "Freedom" not ISS, and there politics was the thing (constant, constant, constant cost-cutting). I agree with you that building the station was a learning process, and to me it said, "Don't build things that you need on short notice (eg., interplanetary spaceships) in space out of a bunch of fiddly bits without a MUCH more mature infrastructure. Cost-cutters, launch delays, and accidents will eat your lunch."

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (2, Insightful)

Larson2042 (1640785) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841683)

Sure, we've just got lots of experience with building the Station--and it was a nightmare. Remember, the station largely derives from Freedom studies started as early as 1982. Conceptually, it's almost 30 years old. Even a lot of the hardware is 20+. There were huge overruns, and several major delays due to the Shuttle failing. Doing that with a Mars craft is not an option.

This is exactly my point. You say that the station derives from an old study, and that much of the hardware used is old. Well, any Mars craft could be a blank sheet design taking the lessons learned from ISS and putting them to good use. And as for delays due to the shuttle, you again make my point. If NASA designs another heavy lift vehicle, it will be the only way to get a Mars craft (or pieces thereof) into orbit. What happens if that launch system goes down to a failure? You have the exact same situation you had with the shuttle. However, if you design your Mars craft from the beginning to use existing medium lift, you'll have multiple options to get stuff into orbit (Atlas V, Delta IV, Falcon 9, Ariane, etc).

Finally, while being able to put everything together as one big piece and launch it may simplify some aspects of the design, if we're going to really do worthwhile things in space (colonies, stations, mining) there will have to be piecemeal launches. Habitats and the like will simply need to be too big to be able to launch on a single rocket. Why not start getting really good at putting stuff together in orbit (or on the lunar surface) now? That way, when the expertise is really necessary, we'll have it. We won't have to stop and spend money to develop it.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (1)

demachina (71715) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841863)

"...if we're going to really do worthwhile things in space..."

I'm kind of doubting we are going to do anything of scale in space until we build either a space elevator or an actual reusable space plane with days for turnaround instead of six months and a complete overhaul between every mission. You might reduce launch costs of rockets some, but I doubt you are ever going to get them to be cheap enough to do anything big in space that any economy on Earth can afford.

As for lessons learned on ISS... the only one I can think of is.... don't ever do that again. To be fair there were a lot of small and valuable lessons learned, but the big picture lesson is you must have spent at least $200 billion and going on 30 years and you have little to show for it other than a station that is running a 50/50 chance of being deorbited right after its completed. Those lessons were too expensive in time and money. If you are going to hit up tax payers for hundreds of billions of dollars you do need to do something that people actually GET or next time around you wont GET.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (2, Interesting)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841515)

If you're going to put even one person into space for any extended duration (i.e., something more than Mercury-style joyrides around the planet), you need to take a long a lot of oxygen, food, water, and other necessities, while also providing a reasonable level of safety. Plus, you need to get cargo to the ISS somehow, and the ISS is on a rather inconveniently inclined orbit.

Figure around 20 metric tons to LEO with a good sized crew. That's about what the shuttle does now, as does the Falcon 9 Heavy and Delta IV Heavy. Neither of the last two have flow with people on board (Falcon 9 hasn't flown yet at all, but should soon), which is why they have smaller variants.

And if you want to do anything beyond LEO, you're going to need something much bigger than any of those. Ares V may have a place, but given the other launchers out there, I'm less certain about Ares I. You already have a pick of options for launch capabilities in that range.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (2, Insightful)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841621)

And if you want to do anything beyond LEO, you're going to need something much bigger than any of those.

Not if you take advantage of propellant depots.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (3, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841631)

I still don't understand the seeming obsession with heavy lift. Why develop and fly a new huge expensive rocket, putting all your payload eggs in one basket, rather than use a greater number of smaller, cheaper, existing rockets?

Simple engineering - the more chunks you split your payload into, the more complex the resulting assembly becomes (because now you need interfaces between the chunks), the heavier the resulting assembly becomes (because of the connectors between chunks and docking/berthing assemblies), and the greater the chance of fucking something up during building, testing, and on orbit assembly. Then there's simply math - if your rocket has a 98% chance of flight success (about average nowadays), then each launch you add to the manifest means the greater chance one will go awry.
 
As far as expense goes, you're way off base - rocket costs scale very weakly with size, and very strongly with complexity and the number of man hours required to prep it for launch. (Which is why the Pegasus [wikipedia.org] , despite it's small size and modest payload, is somewhat above the middle of the pack in $/kg to orbit.)
 
 

The more rockets you fly, the more you have to build, and you can begin to take advantage of economies of scale and reduce the dollars per kg cost to orbit.

That's the handwaving-and-smokescreen theory. The reality is that economies of scale in manufacturing don't begin to provide significant advantage until you're talking dozens of launches a year. Costs still really don't drop much until you tackle the problem of the standing army required to integrate, checkout, and launch the vehicle - multiple smaller launches can actually cost more in total than one big launch.
 
 

Another advantage is that if your rocket does encounter some calamity, you don't lose your entire (much more expensive than the rocket itself) payload, but rather just a piece of it.

That would be a point in favor of multiple smaller chunks - if space hardware could be bought off the shelf like the load of roof trusses I saw dumped all over the median in an accident the other day. But it can't, and won't be for the foreseeable future. This means that losing a portion of the payload is no different than losing the whole payload, either one is game over.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (2, Interesting)

demachina (71715) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841719)

"Another advantage is that if your rocket does encounter some calamity, you don't lose your entire (much more expensive than the rocket itself) payload, but rather just a piece of it."

If you lose one payload chances are whatever your mission was is shot anyway until you replace it, unless you are going to build a spare for every module and have spare launchers ready to go, which would seem to be a problem if they are "expensive". Maybe if its bulk stuff like fuel, water or oxygen it wouldn't be so much of a problem to lose one but for those the launch is the expensive thing.

I'm pretty sure the Apollo people thought all this out and they came up with a pretty good solution that is known to work. I wager they figured it was best to launch everything at once where possible. As prone as launches are to being aborted for technical problems and weather in Florida if you had to do many launches it could take a long and unpredictable amount of time to get everything you need in to orbit. Just hope you don't need to hit a window, to go to Mars for example.

I think it remains to be seen how much actual economy of scale you can get in launchers. So far they are more custom built by craftsmen than an assembly line where economy of scale would really pay off. Would be interesting if you could make a reliable assembly line that could turn them out like Model T's. Would also be interesting to know what launch rate and how much it would cost annually to make a real rocket assembly line with economy of scale.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (2, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#29842857)

If you lose one payload chances are whatever your mission was is shot anyway until you replace it, unless you are going to build a spare for every module and have spare launchers ready to go, which would seem to be a problem if they are "expensive".

What would you rather lose? An expensive module or a mission?

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29843807)

If you lose one payload chances are whatever your mission was is shot anyway until you replace it, unless you are going to build a spare for every module and have spare launchers ready to go, which would seem to be a problem if they are "expensive".

What would you rather lose? An expensive module or a mission?

It's also worth noting that for any beyond-LEO mission, the bulk of your mass is going to be propellant, which is pretty much the definition of easily-replaceable. This is particularly the case if you take advantage of in-orbit propellant storage depots, one of the things which the Augustine Report recommends.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#29843809)

If you lose one payload chances are whatever your mission was is shot anyway until you replace it, unless you are going to build a spare for every module and have spare launchers ready to go,

For launchers, that'd be kind of the point. Say you got 10 launchers, 8 for the original parts and 2 in reserve - you'd have pretty good reliability for a 25% increase in cost or less on that. For the modules, let us first for the launch success rate assume that you're building two of any module for QA purposes anyway, not very unlikely. Let us assume a 95% success rate, not too unlikely given the shuttle trackrecord. the odds of all 10 launches going well on first try is 59.87%. The odds of one failure + successful relaunch is 28.36% and two failures on different modules 6.72% for a grand total of 94.95% success probability.

As for the modules, yes they're mostly unique but it's not like we hammer them out by hand anymore. Most of the parts are built to very exact electronic specifications, they go through all sorts of tolerances testing, stress testing, radiation testing and so I really can't imagine them being that costly to produce exact replicas. Yes, sometimes they use highly experimental materials in these things but say for example the Mars rovers is mostly an aluminum structure with scientific equipemnt. Lithium-ion batteries are in every laptop. It's not really the materials driving up most costs.

Where I'm guessing the big blocker is would be the modularization itself. If you build it as one "thing", you can just weld it or glue it or whatever they do together and you can do that with tons of external equipment and QA here on earth or use larger parts and don't have a assembly point at all. Also all the cables and wires and tubes that ought to go from one module to another, it all gets much harder. One thing is research robots that we can slowly send off on a space trajectory, minimal acceleration also means minimal stress. Building something like a Mars expedition craft that will assemble in orbit and reliably not have structural failure when you turn on the engines to get going is a different matter.

As you said, depends on rate of launch. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#29842055)

The idea is for NASA to have a heavy launch and then do it at least once every 2 months, but better would be once a month. As to light to medium, that is what EELV, SpaceX, SS3, etc are doing. What is needed is for NASA to stimulate the space business so that commercial flights take off, which would ultimately lead to needing heavy launch needs. Obama/Dems/NASA HAVE the ability to do this stimulus with relatively LITTLE money. We will see if they will the right thing.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (1)

Truth is life (1184975) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841587)

I read the Executive Summary when that came out, and will read the full report, which actually looks pretty interesting from my brief skims, when I have time, and just wanted to chime in that the overall direction looks really good. The Moon-First/extended shuttle/station or a (hypothetical) Flexible Path/extended shuttle/station would be pretty much ideal from my standpoint, giving NASA something interesting to do but minimizing the flight gap. Of course, there's a long history at NASA of having 'good-looking' reports that just collected dust, and Norman Augustine and Sally Ride sure know about that, but hopefully this will get a good reception.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (2, Interesting)

demachina (71715) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841821)

I seriously don't know how you can say "overall direction looks really good". It looks to me a lot more like a bunch of dithering and continuing the status quo (a.k.a. NASA Jobs Program) until the next election and the next Presidential commission changes direction again and reboots it all again. At some point someone needs to do a Kennedy, pick a target worth doing, set a schedule, throw down a guantlet, DO IT, and stop changing course every few years to avoid ever doing ANYTHING except wasting billions of dollars.

Flying astronauts to LaGrange points strikes me as bizarre. I could see you sending satellites to them but they are empty points in space. You spend billions of dollars to fly people to empty points in space, everyone on Earth will say WTF are you doing? Spending even more billions to fly people to Mars, not land and return is just as bad, and will get just as bad a reception. You either have a plan to go to Mars and land, and ideally stay there, or don't even bother.

I could maybe see flying to an asteroid or comet but I'm inclined to think a very capable robotic rover like Spirit or Opportunity would be a LOT more bang for the buck until you figure out a mission you REALLY need people on one for.

I seriously wish the U.S. was a rational country with a rational government but I don't think it has been for at least 40 years. You kind of have two options, decide you want to do manned space exploration and fund it properly or pull the plug on it and move on. Wasting money on it and never doing anything has to stop. The amount of money this report is quibbling over here is less than the U.S. blows in Iraq and Afghanistan in a month so you kind of figure the truth is everyone in Washington wants manned space exploration dead, but they don't have the balls to actually kill it. Assorted powerful Congressmen just want the jobs program in their state/district and don't care if it actually accomplishes anything.

I was taken aback when I saw earlier this week that NASA has already spent $450 million on the upcoming Aries 1-X launch. This is basically to launch one pretty much off the shelf Shuttle SRB with a bunch of mockups stacked on top presumably made out of paper meche. And we wonder why they are having budget and schedule problems?

P.S.

Putting an ex Lockheed CEO in charge of this commission pretty much eliminated any chance of any original thinking before this commission even started. Lockheed IS the status quo and the jobs program.

Re:Summary of Augustine Report (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#29843887)

Flying astronauts to LaGrange points strikes me as bizarre. I could see you sending satellites to them but they are empty points in space. You spend billions of dollars to fly people to empty points in space, everyone on Earth will say WTF are you doing?

They're empty points in space which also happen to be incredibly ideal staging points for reaching other locations in the solar system. Any serious and sustainable long-term exploration of the solar system will require staging/refueling at Lagrange points, it's just a question of how soon you want to start operating from them.

Spending even more billions to fly people to Mars, not land and return is just as bad, and will get just as bad a reception.

Why's that? It's seems that the public reaction to the first manned lunar flyby was pretty positive. As long as the public understands that the flyby is a step on the way to an actual landing (which it will be), they will accept it. Also, the prospect of landing astronauts on Phobos and establishing a base there is just plain awesome.

Putting an ex Lockheed CEO in charge of this commission pretty much eliminated any chance of any original thinking before this commission even started. Lockheed IS the status quo and the jobs program.

When it comes down to it though, NASA is a political program, and any truly radical changes will be opposed tooth and nail by Congress. Without at least some congressional support, any proposals will just be shelved away and forgotten (as has happened to a number of other NASA commissions). You need somebody like Augustine who knows how to work the political side if you want your proposals to have any sort of an impact. And when it came down to it, even though he upheld the status quo on things like heavy-lift pretty stubbornly, the report does proposal some relatively groundshaking things like in-orbit propellant depots and the Flexible Path option.

Interesting how they rank Soyuz to the shuttle (3, Informative)

waimate (147056) | more than 4 years ago | (#29840699)

...commercial spaceflight sector can provide a level of safety equal to that offered by the venerable Russian Soyuz system, which has flown safely for the last 38 years, and exceeding that of the Space Shuttle.

So the astronauts are saying that Soyuz is safer than the shuttle. Interesting.

Re:Interesting how they rank Soyuz to the shuttle (4, Informative)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841127)

It's not that the astronauts are saying it...the facts (your quote) simply support that notion.

The two fatal accidents it had at the beginning were because of a) rushing it into service (first accident) b) disgarding common sense safety (crew not in pressure suits for reentry). Yes, it had a few rough, ballistic reentries, but it survived them. Heck, even reentering the atmosphere with the upper hatch acting as heatshield worked (upside down, basically, due to failure in detaching service module and changed aerodynamics of the spacecraft; try flying a Space Shuttle in "wrong" orientation to the airflow...oh wait, both Challenger and Columbia did it, and look how it ended (in both cases the immediate cause of orbiter disintegration were aerodynamic forces))

Re:Interesting how they rank Soyuz to the shuttle (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29843071)

It's not that the astronauts are saying it...the facts (your quote) simply support that notion.

Actually, the facts don;t support that notion.
 
 

The two fatal accidents it had at the beginning were because of a) rushing it into service (first accident) b) disgarding common sense safety (crew not in pressure suits for reentry). Yes, it had a few rough, ballistic reentries, but it survived them.

A few rough ballistic entries? There's been at least five in the last six years, and more before that. (Not to mention that ballistic entries are caused by significant system failures.)
 
 

Heck, even reentering the atmosphere with the upper hatch acting as heatshield worked (upside down, basically, due to failure in detaching service module and changed aerodynamics of the spacecraft

No, it didn't work - in both cases where this happened they were lucky (very lucky) in that the service module burned away and detached before the upper hatch burned through.

Re:Interesting how they rank Soyuz to the shuttle (3, Insightful)

kaiser423 (828989) | more than 4 years ago | (#29841181)

Well, that's because it is.....Why is that interesting? It's common knowledge, and has been for years. The Soyuz is a freakin' tank, and is about as simple of a system as you could design.

Re:Interesting how they rank Soyuz to the shuttle (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29843101)

It's 'common knowledge' that the Soyuz is safer in the same way that it's 'common knowledge' that eating pop rocks and drinking coke will cause your stomach to rupture.
 
IOW, just because it's 'common knowledge' doesn't mean it is true.

Re:Interesting how they rank Soyuz to the shuttle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29841215)

The historical record would seem to bear that out.

Re:Interesting how they rank Soyuz to the shuttle (1)

citizenr (871508) | more than 4 years ago | (#29842387)

...commercial spaceflight sector can provide a level of safety equal to that offered by the venerable Russian Soyuz system, which has flown safely for the last 38 years, and exceeding that of the Space Shuttle.

So the astronauts are saying that Soyuz is safer than the shuttle. Interesting.

Just like AK47/74 is more reliable than m4/16

Re:Interesting how they rank Soyuz to the shuttle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29842495)

Yeah. The Russians have never lost a cosmonaut during a mission, to my knowledge. They have different systems with different safety margins depending on whether they're sending up people or other payloads. We try to do both with the same vehicle, and as a result, we split the difference on the safety margins.

Buzz would show up ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29840757)

... to a door opening.

So what? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29841773)

Pilots endorse commercial flights, surgeons endorse non-scientific surgeries, taxi drivers endorse commercial transportation by car.
What's the big deal?

mo3 up (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29842611)

guys 4re usually [goat.cx]
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