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Launching Frequently Key To NASA Success

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the more-is-better dept.

NASA 145

teeks99 writes "Even NASA could benefit from the 'Launch Often' idea that is frequently referred to in the software development community. However, in NASA's case, the 'launch' is a bit more literal. Edward Lu, writing in the New York Times, points out that by lowering the consequences of launch failure, and making frequent launches available to engineers, NASA could open up a new wave of innovation in space exploration. If there were weekly launches of a rocket, there would be many opportunities for new ideas to be tried out in communications, remote sensing, orbital debris mitigation, robotic exploration, and even in developing technology for human spaceflight. Another benefit would be that the rockets would be well understood, which would improve reliability."

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A rocket launch is just like a software launch (3, Insightful)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547044)

I mean, your'r a silicon valley startup, you launch a POS software that crashes, you redo it, no blood no foul; the only problem is some pissed off customers, but hey - it's software, we expect it to not work on ver1.0 (or ver10,0 if your are MS) Just like putting 100,000 gallons of toxic explosive up into the air - the consequences of failure due to rapid product cycle are just the same.

Re:A rocket launch is just like a software launch (2, Insightful)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547198)

Yeah, and the costs are exactly on the same level, and the launch frequency probably has nothing to do how much government gives budget.

This sounds like a good working idea.

Re:A rocket launch is just like a software launch (3, Interesting)

negRo_slim (636783) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547268)

NASA has phenomenal quality control, your comparison is apples to oranges.

The fact of the matter is they need more launches to maintain interest in the public sector so we might get a budget that actually allows things to get done. Of course they need a more efficient launch system, something that diverting 20-30% of the defense budget unto NASA could accomplish.

Re:A rocket launch is just like a software launch (2, Informative)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547706)

Or we could give NASA's current budget to Space-X.

Re:A rocket launch is just like a software launch (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30548130)

Why would we do that? NASA employs thousands of scientists, engineers, technicians, managers, and so on, working to produce science far beyond "space" exploration. Pure research is a fundamental necessity to a modern Western economy, wins wars, leads to medicine.

Space-X makes fancy missiles. Not much different than the contractors NASA use...

Re:A rocket launch is just like a software launch (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30547316)

A rocket launch is just like a penis launching towards your mouth. A big nigger penis to be exact, cuz that makes it better in every way. By the way, hydrogen and oxygen are not what most people think of when you say "toxic." So that's another FAIL. You know what I do if I don't know what I'm talking about? I shut the fuck up and listen or in this case, read. Try it sometime. It sure beats saying something about the shuttle's fuel that's just plain false and EASILY PROVEN false (ever heard of Google? Good, ya lazy bastard.). You jackass.

Re:A rocket launch is just like a software launch (2, Informative)

masshuu (1260516) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547436)

He might of been referring to the Solid Rocket Boosters [wikipedia.org] which use APCP [wikipedia.org] .

The exhaust from APCP solid rocket motors contain mostly water, carbon dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and a metal oxide. The hydrogen chloride can easily dissociate into water and create corrosive hydrochloric acid, damaging launch equipment and biasing the pH of local water and rainfall.

I don't know were you come from, but were i come from, hydrochloric acid and acid rain are bad.

Re:A rocket launch is just like a software launch (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547576)

You think that is bad? Try reading about Hydrazine [wikipedia.org] and Nitric Acid [wikipedia.org] . Not to mention the Nedelin catastrophe [wikipedia.org] .

Anyway, you can build rockets without using any of this. LOX/Kerosene, LOX/LH2 are pretty clean.

That was the original idea behind the space shuttl (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30547074)

each shuttle was supposed to be able to be readied for launch in 2 weeks, and there were going to be 10+ launches a year

they can't even roll it from the VAB to the pad in 2 weeks it turns out

Re:That was the original idea behind the space shu (1)

xkcdFan1011011101111 (1494551) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548136)

mod up. this story is old news

But in the big picture (1)

scarboni888 (1122993) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547094)

Can we afford such massive expenditures of energy on such a frequent basis? And for how long? Is this limitless or what? I mean, I love sci-fi too but unfortunately have become aware of the fact that resources are not limitless....

Re:But in the big picture (2, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547142)

Can we afford such massive expenditures of energy on such a frequent basis? And for how long? Is this limitless or what? I mean, I love sci-fi too but unfortunately have become aware of the fact that resources are not limitless....

A lot of the costs of maintaining the launch system go by the day and hour anyway, not per launch.

Re:But in the big picture (1)

scarboni888 (1122993) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547190)

Maintaining the launch system? How about the megatons of fuel used per launch? Where does that come from, btw? & is it limitless?

Re:But in the big picture (3, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547212)

How about the megatons of fuel used per launch? Where does that come from, btw? & is it limitless?

Pretty much. Its just hydrogen and oxygen. Viewed differently its just water and electricity. With the right plant you can make megatons of the stuff quite cheaply.

Re:But in the big picture (0)

diamondmagic (877411) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547232)

Well, the fuel is largely hydrogen and oxygen which comes from water, but you are still correct, it takes material resources, energy, time, and money in general to do these launches, and who knows what goods could have been made cheaper, or what other products could have been engineered instead of space shuttles, had they not been taxed away for NASA's use.

Re:But in the big picture (1)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547250)

But imagine if you'd get to drive this [instantlearning.net] thing [sandia.gov] every week. Not everyone get to do that.

Re:But in the big picture (1)

MooUK (905450) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547630)

Where's my driving seat?

Yeah, just think? (1)

gbutler69 (910166) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547882)

Instead of the Space Shuttle/Moon Landing/Space Program the U.S. could've had gobs more of:

  • iPod-like devices
  • Personal Entertainment Electronics
  • Multi-Stage Sex Toys
  • Video Game Consoles
  • Cellular Phones
  • Miniature Portable Stereos
  • Better Refrigeratators
  • Better Stoves
  • Better Toasters
  • Airplanes
  • Safer, more fuel efficient cars
  • Cure for diseases
  • Better medications for previously untreatable diseases
  • etc
  • etc

Oh, wait, we DID HAVE THOSE THINGS!

Re:But in the big picture (2, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548532)

How about the megatons of fuel used per launch?

You probably meant kilotons here. Though even Saturn V didn't use as much as three kilotons of fuel per launch.

Seriously, the amount of fuel required for a rocket launch, even a very large rocket launch, isn't all that much. Remember that the USS Iowa carried 2.1 million gallons of fuel, which translates to about seven kilotons of fuel, no more than a month's supply.

Re:But in the big picture (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30547192)

Can we afford such massive expenditures of energy on such a frequent basis? And for how long? Is this limitless or what?

They're rocket launches, not nuclear bombs. We aren't going to run out of oxygen and we /certainly/ aren't going to ever run out of hydrogen, so that's already our cryogenic fuels. That said kerosene and whatnot for rocket fuels is indeed limited, but there's plenty of non-fossil alternatives.

Re:But in the big picture (2, Insightful)

negRo_slim (636783) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547296)

Can we afford such massive expenditures of energy on such a frequent basis? And for how long? Is this limitless or what? I mean, I love sci-fi too but unfortunately have become aware of the fact that resources are not limitless....

Have you ever seen how much fuel is required for an Abrams Tank? I think if we are worried about energy expenditure we should scale back our military operations before scientific endeavors.

Re:But in the big picture (4, Informative)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547916)

I recall reading that an Abrams Tank gets 1 mile/gallon and has a 60 gallon tank.

But then reading a bit into it, I'm wrong [globalsecurity.org] . (I'm probably thinking of a different tank.) The M1 Abrams gets 0.6 miles/gallon and has a fuel capacity of either 498 gallons or 505 gallons.

Re:But in the big picture (4, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547328)

Can we afford such massive expenditures of energy on such a frequent basis?

Can't we? Don't we expend several orders of magnitude more energy every day "launching" millions of cars onto the roads of America? Compared to that, launching one rocket a week is trivial...

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (4, Interesting)

upuv (1201447) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547502)

Clearly you have not even looked at the big picture.

First off the fuel is Hydrogen and Oxygen. Which by product is water.

The space program has given us. world wide telecommunications, GPS, weather satellite. How many lives and how much energy have those things saved? GPS alone applied to the transport industry has been a huge fuel saver.

"If" we develop fusion we will need fuel. Where is the highest concentration of fusion fuel? The moon.

Would it not be more ecological to mine asteroids than the amazon?

What about the development of clean 24/7 solar power? That can only be achieved in space.

The Moon program of the 60's gave us the transistor and ultimately the processor in your computer you used to view this. How many lives have been saved by the chip. Hybrid cars would be impossible with them.

The space program is possible the last area where mega projects can have significant positive impact on the planet, man and our future.

And lastly the resources in space are LIMITLESS. Once we learn how to tap them properly.

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (1)

MooUK (905450) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547650)

Which resources are limitless now?

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (0, Flamebait)

dunezone (899268) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547694)

Metals, Coal, Petroleum. Most of the major deposits are either tapped right now or been exhausted. Additionally, the new deposits are in areas that are harder to get to such as under the sea or miles below the surface of the earth. You must ask yourself is it better to keep digging or possibly get off this rock?

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (2, Insightful)

MooUK (905450) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547840)

Where're you going to get coal and oil in space?

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548542)

coal is carbon. carbon is quite common in space. As for oil, use methane instead. There are whole planets of the stuff out there.

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (1)

amilo100 (1345883) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548666)

There is no shortage of metals - most of the earth is metal. The problem is that it is difficult to dig deep enough.

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (2, Interesting)

upuv (1201447) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547698)

In space?

The easy ones are:
Solar power
Hydrogen
Oxygen
Iron

But everything else is out there. We just have to figure out where and how to get at it in a cost effective manor.

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (1)

MooUK (905450) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547802)

I'll give you solar power in all practical timescales. The rest... limitless?

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548568)

oxygen is abundant. It's a byproduct of the fusion process in stars. It's usually found in oxides and can be found in large quantities there. If you have solar power available in quantity, you can break down the water or silicates or metal oxides to produce the raw metals and all the oxygen you could need.

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30547972)

Silica

Asteroids are full of silica. Silica will be the primary building material used in space. It is easy to cast, alloy, cut, grind, weld, etc. People will live in giant chunks of orbiting glass because that is what you find when you tear into an asteroid.

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30547684)

this is nonsense
if it was as cheap and rosy as you pretend it is, why does it cost hundreds of dollars per kg launched into orbit?
the answer is: you are lying. it is not cheap. it would be a ridicolus waste of money. money that could be spent on actual space exploration rather than just firing loads of crap into the sky.

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (1)

upuv (1201447) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547728)

At no point did I say cheap. I said heavy lifters are cheaper. When you talking about millions of dollars cheaper is far better.

Also if you don't learn how to utilize the resources out in space you ain't doing any exploration. Cause it's going to cost ridiculous amounts of money to get those resources into space if you don't use the resources up there.

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (1)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547748)

Alternatively: doing a few launches a year makes it impossible to take advantage of economies of scale.

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548732)

if it was as cheap and rosy as you pretend it is, why does it cost hundreds of dollars per kg launched into orbit?

Hundreds of dollars per kg would be pretty sweet. You could put a bunch of people (bulk rate here) in orbit for less than a million dollars apiece at those rates. Unfortunately, current launch costs are somewhere between $5k and $40k per kg depending what you use (Russian vehicles for the lower cost, Shuttle for the higher cost) and how often you use them.

Transistor was 1947 (2, Informative)

fdrebin (846000) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547712)

Integrated circuit 1958.

You kids these days.

Re:Transistor was 1947 (1)

upuv (1201447) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547740)

Point taken. I meant to type IC. Integrated Circuit. IC leading to chip.

Thanks for the correction :)

Re:But in the big picture. Have you seen it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30548250)

Would everyone stop talking about the fusion-fuel-on-the-moon myth? The helium-3 on the moon currently cannot be used with any fusion reactor. If we did create a working fusion reactor in the next ten years, ocean water would work just fine. Using helium-3 would take years and years of additional development with the only added benefit of aneutronic fusion...

Re:But in the big picture (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548018)

The expenditure of energy will become affordable and efficient if we drop the manned space program for a few decades.

There is no rush, and we can learn far more per dollar spent if we focus on remote-manned systems.

For the romantics who crave a ride in space, pay a commercial outfit like any other tourist.

Re:But in the big picture (1)

afabbro (33948) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548048)

Can we afford such massive expenditures of energy on such a frequent basis? And for how long? Is this limitless or what?

Yes. A long time. Nothing is limitless. Let us know if you have any further questions.

Not impressed. (0, Troll)

WGFCrafty (1062506) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547102)

How about we go to the moon every other day? Think of all the stuff we can test then!

Actually, lets just build a voyager probe every four hours and launch it, and shoot it in a slightly different direction.

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

Per-launch costs can be measured by dividing the total cost over the life of the program (including buildings, facilities, training, salaries, etc) by the number of launches. With 115 missions (as of 6 August 2006), and a total cost of $150 billion ($145 billion as of early 2005 + $5 billion for 2005,[19] this gives approximately $1.3 billion per launch. Another method is to calculate the incremental (or marginal) cost differential to add or subtract one flight — just the immediate resources expended/saved/involved in that one flight. This is about $60 million U. S. dollars.[21]

Well, the government just spent 800+ Billion dollars this morning. If only we can convince them to trade the health of America for 800 (on the low end) or so rocket launches.

Re:Not impressed. (2, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547202)

Lets say a big launch can throw 10000kg into the orbit of the ISS. To do that you need a big launcher and if it fails you lose the whole thing. A small launcher throws 1000kg into the same orbit. Assuming a zero failure rate one big launch should be cheaper than ten small launches.

But you can get better, faster at the small launches, because you might be doing one a week. Now thats a nice pattern if you think about it. You could stack the vehicle on Monday, roll it to the pad on Tuesday, test the payload on Wednesday, etc. Then light the fuse on Friday and repeat the whole process next week.

So overall its more expensive that way but if you take failures into account you might just be ahead.

Re:Not impressed. (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547230)

Not only just the launcher, but some expensive payload. I mean, just think if the entire ISS was lost in one disaster. If you lose a module, yeah, its a setback but not a huge one. If you lose an entire space station though, chances are that space station plan will never get off the ground.

Re:Not impressed. (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547434)

Of course by delivering smaller components to orbit you pass some of the integration cost onto people in orbit, and their hours are very expensive.

Re:Not impressed. (2, Interesting)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547488)

Well, actually, taking all sentimentality aside, there are a lot of people who would want to be an astronaut. But the sheer lack of missions mean that very few can actually make it. I mean, there has only been less than 600 astronauts from all the countries in the world. And there are a lot more people who would want to be an astronaut and others who are qualified to be an astronaut but instead do something different (such as fly a fighter jet)

Re:Not impressed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30548204)

And there are a lot more people who would want to be an astronaut and others who are qualified to be an astronaut but instead do something different (such as fly a fighter jet)

Fighter pilots (actually, test pilots) are the traditional source for NASA pilots. But pilots are only qualified to pilot the Shuttle. Pilots aren't the guys putting space craft together, even in space (though I am sure they help as much as possible). They need scientists, engineers, and technicians for that.

Re:Not impressed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30547282)

You have left out one very key part that the author has also missed. When are the engineers and scientists supposed to learn from all of this; on the weekend? We had an intake valve on a compressor fail 2 weeks ago and the mechanical engineers have only just figured out what happened let alone had time to come up with a solution so it never happens again.

If you launch a rocket every week you don't improve reliability at all. What will end up happening is that resources investigating each launch become diluted. The tight schedule would have an effect on the way information is distilled through the organisation and the end result is people learn less not more.

But I suppose you get to see the same explosion over and over again as you launch yet another rocket that has the same bug because no one has had the time to analyse what went wrong.

Re:Not impressed. (2, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547510)

When are the engineers and scientists supposed to learn from all of this; on the weekend?

Root cause analysis takes months on complex systems. If you have to stop your launches due to an unknown issue then you do that.

Re:Not impressed. (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547680)

If the vehicle is reusable, you do not have that many parts to test. If you have more than one launch vehicle design, you can stop some from flying while the others are being debugged. Same thing as with cars or airplanes.

Re:Not impressed. (1)

upuv (1201447) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547622)

Um heavy lifters would be used for what exactly?

Well it's not to lift a space station in one go. That's just stupid. First off you would have to build it in one impossible strong piece. The current system of lifting smallish pieces and assembling them in space will continue.

It's to lift FUEL.

A large lifter has to have 1 complete set of instruments. ( Plus it's redundancy ). A small lifter has to have EXACTLY THE SAME instruments. Thus the efficiency of the lifter drops and the expense per lift increases.

As a whole a large lifter would have approximately the same loss ratio as the large lifter. So in the end you would loose about the same tonage of valuable cargo with small lifters as you would with large lifters. But as I just pointed out. IT COSTS MORE.

Also note that there is not a launch on the planet these days that is not insured. Insurance is a means of spreading out the losses of the cost of the total sum of all lifts. The losses typically include the value of the earnings of the item being luanched. So the only real loss when something blows up is the time it takes to launch the next one.

So a bigger lifter only makes sense. Buy volume and tonage more of the lifter is devoted to the cargo. The higher the cargo to lifter ratios the more cost effective the operation is.

A larger lifter is much more flexible and adaptable. The smaller the lifter the more complex it is to adapt the payload to the lifters restrictions of weight and size. A bigger lifter would obviously have fewer restrictions. For example. Would it be cheaper to design and build a satellite that has to fold up to a super tiny space or a satellite that simple just has to unfold it's solar panels. Clearly the second one. It would also be more likeley to be designed tested and built far in advance of the smaller one. Thus a larger lifter also reduces the cost of the payloads themselves.

In the end a large lifter is so clearly the only way to go.

Fuel (1, Funny)

bucketoftruth (583696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547108)

The first thing that occurs to me is that it probably takes more than a week to gather all the fuel to launch a satellite into orbit, you insensitive clod.

What a bunch of crapola (2, Interesting)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547140)

The rockets are well understood. The Atlas/Delta/Centaurs are all 45 year old designs and well shook down and understood. Even the "new" rocket is 85% old Space Shuttle booster, 30 yr old design.
The Saturn V was considered well understood and capable of being "man-rated" after six launches. So this rationale does not hold water.

You might look for other motivations, like maybe huge profits for the rocket makers and launchers?

Re:What a bunch of crapola (1)

amightywind (691887) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547278)

Thanks for saving me from saying it. This Soyuz envy is absurd. The Russians were marooned aboard Mir when we started flying shuttles to it. Without the shuttle we couldn't have an ISS, the the foreigners love so much. Soyuz is a step 50 years back. Let NASA build the Ares 1 and 5!

Re:What a bunch of crapola (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547726)

The first Soyuz flight was in 1966. The first Shuttle flight was in 1982. So its 16 years, not 50.

Just because something is newer does not mean it is better for all cases, or will keep being better. When was the last time you saw a plane with variable-sweep [wikipedia.org] wings? Or hydroplanes for that matter.

Re:What a bunch of crapola (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547448)

You might look for other motivations, like maybe huge profits for the rocket makers and launchers?

What's preventing competition from bringing down these costs?

Re:What a bunch of crapola (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547810)

Large R&D costs, very tight regulations, conservative customers. More than one launch company has failed because it could not secure a launch site. More than one launch company has failed because prospective clients vanished.

Re:What a bunch of crapola (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548312)

More than one launch company has failed because it could not secure a launch site

Is this the federal government putting the kibosh on plans? I'd guess somewhere in the middle of the New Mexico desert there would be communities eager for a high tech business center.

I ask with an Eisenhower's leery eye.

Re:What a bunch of crapola (2, Interesting)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548432)

It was non-US projects mostly which had problems getting a launch site: e.g. OTRAG, Aurora. In order to not have this problem Sea Launch used a mobile sea platform for rocket launch.

I do know SpaceX considered it enough of a problem that they preferred having multiple launch sites (Kawelejian, Omelek, Vandenberg). AFAIK they were all but kicked out from Vandenberg, allegedly because authorities were concerned an exploding Falcon 1 would drop on top of the Atlas V launch pad. Had they not those extra launch sites, they would probably be out of business by now. It remains to be seen if there will not be trouble with them launching Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral... AFAIK there is a Delta IV pad in there.

Re:What a bunch of crapola (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30547760)

Yeah, it's not rocket science, people!

oh wait, yes it is.

Try Smoking It This Way (0)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547148)

"If there were weekly launches of a rocket, there would be many * DOLLARS * for new ideas to be tried out..."

Nope, sorry, it'll never get off the ground Orville.

These things cost money. Frequently too much, but even the best deals cost. Launching rockets costs a lot. It does not generate money. You can't buy squat with "opportunities", and can buy far less of you're punching holes in the sky based on a schedule of launches instead of a schedule of available payloads.

Orbital Debris Mitigation? (1)

the phantom (107624) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547156)

If there were weekly launches of a rocket, there would be many opportunities for new ideas to be tried out in communications, remote sensing, orbital debris mitigation, robotic exploration, and even in developing technology for human spaceflight.

And, with all of those extra launches, there will be extra debris to attempt those orbital debris mitigation techniques on! It's win/win!

This is BS (4, Interesting)

eln (21727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547160)

We have a shuttle launch every few months, and every time the general public's reaction is almost total apathy. Satellites are launched into space all the time, and nobody cares.

We don't need more frequent launches, we need a manned space program that actually makes progress if we want people to get excited about space travel. Sending tiny robots into space is not interesting to most people, and sending people to the same rock over and over again is also not exciting to most people (witness the rapid dropoff in interest during the Apollo era).

The way to get national interest in space travel up again is twofold:
1. Get NASA going full-bore on manned exploration of space. Put the Mars mission on an Apollo-like timetable. Of course, no one wants to spend the money for this because nobody cares about space, so we have to use the next point to get them there:
2. Aggressively support commercial manned space travel. Give more people a chance to go into space, even just LEO, and you'll have a lot more willingness to fund aggressive exploration missions. This means the price for a trip has to go way down, and the safety has to go way up. If we can get to a point where a trip to space costs the same as, say, an all-inclusive vacation to the Caribbean, everyone will want to go.

The current strategy of announcing big initiatives and then starving them of funds, and letting commercial space ventures limp along with inadequate funding and no direction, is not getting anybody anywhere. As long as NASA is saying 20 years just to get back to the Moon (assuming the funding isn't cut, which it always is), and it still costs $20 million to get a private citizen into LEO, interest in space travel will remain low. Launching more rockets filled with tiny robots is not going to fix that.

Re:This is BS (1, Redundant)

eln (21727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547178)

Okay, and now I notice the article is actually about solving scientific problems, not generating interest. Of course, without public interest, there's no way in the world NASA would ever get enough funding to do anywhere near that many launches, so the point still stands.

Re:This is BS (1)

upuv (1201447) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547646)

The point is public interest is a dead end for funding.

A big lifter brings space closer to profitability. Once it is profitable then the space exploration takes off.

Re:This is BS (1)

uptownguy (215934) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547796)

I can't help by be reminded of an article from just a couple of days ago [slashdot.org] about a similar mindset. One could argue that if you spend decades and decades with your focus being "generating public interest" in a program without finding a way to make it profitable or solve some genuine pressing outstanding problems, it will become harder and harder to justify spending tens of billions of dollars each year. Eventually, you're just stalling.

I suspect that until we find a way to make this whole exercise profitable or meaningful in a way that resonates with most people... well, you're going to have some great people on your team and put out a great demo every few years... but eventually you'll become a cautionary tale...

Re:This is BS (5, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547294)

We have a shuttle launch every few months, and every time the general public's reaction is almost total apathy. Satellites are launched into space all the time, and nobody cares.

Cruise ships depart US ports almost daily, airliners depart from where in the US every second, rail cars by the thousands are in motion day in and day out - and nobody cares. It's all routine. If space travel and access is all routine, then that's usually considered a sign of maturity.
 

We don't need more frequent launches, we need a manned space program that actually makes progress if we want people to get excited about space travel.

You state that as if not being able to make progress without getting people excited was a fact, as opposed to the opinion it actually is. Research ships leave US ports routinely, and there are probably a thousand or more science teams in the field in the US at any given time. (Well, maybe not this week with the holidays and all.) All of this happens almost completely without public notice, and the lack of such notice impedes progress not at all. (And that doesn't even touch on the [probably] tens of thousands of lab bench bound research projects or researchers toiling away in libraries and archives.)
 
Which is a long winded way of saying that before you propose expensive stunts to draw public interest, first justify your claim that without interest progress won't occur.

Re:This is BS (1)

eln (21727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547350)

Progress requires funding. Funding requires public interest. Public interest can be generated using the methods I spoke of in my original post.

Sure, eventually progress will occur using our current methods, but it will take forever. The only way to get the funding to generate progress in a desirable time period (say, fast enough for me to vacation on Mars before I die) is to spend more money, which won't happen until it becomes politically popular to do so.

Re:This is BS (3, Insightful)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547402)

Progress requires funding. Funding requires public interest.

You can't get this kind of funding through just "public interest." Funding for space travel requires the prospect of a profitable return. That is how cruise ship travel matured, this is how air travel matured, and it will be how space travel matures if it ever does.

Re:This is BS (2, Interesting)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547320)

I agree that we need to generate public interest, but I disagree on your methods. So instead of sending robots, we send people. To what affect? Who cares?

Look back at the great space race of the 60s. What made it as special as it was? Was it that we were flying men in to space with little more than tin foil and duct tape? Or was it that we were actually in a race? We had to beat the commies! I don't really know why it really mattered, but it was a national pride thing so I guess tangible results weren't required.

We need a goal. We need a "mission". Something the country can look towards and hope for. Putting people in space is done. We've done that. No one cares. Now, racing the Chinese to the first long term moon base? That's a goal worth pursuing ( although I still fail to see the deliverables, it would again become a thing of national pride ).

Re:This is BS (1)

eln (21727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547374)

We have to send people to explore places we haven't been already. Like I said, nobody cares about people going to places we've already been (the moon), and nobody cares about sending tiny robots to explore for us. Sending people to explore is exciting, though.

Of course, there's also a groundswell of feeling in this country that government shouldn't do anything at all, and certainly shouldn't spend any money; and private enterprise doesn't care about space outside of orbiting the Earth with satellites, so we're kind of stuck.

Re:This is BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30547768)

We have a shuttle launch every few months, and every time the general public's reaction is almost total apathy. Satellites are launched into space all the time, and nobody cares.

Do you judge the success of a space program based on the public's reaction?

Does the public care when a 747 (or Aerobus or whatever) takes off from an airport? Do you use the public's reaction to judge the success of the airline industry?

He doesn't exactly say it, but I think Lu's underlying point is that NASA is run like a PR agency. What mission will grab the public's attention? How can we get the public excited about space flight again? Go to the moon? Go to Mars?

Are you excited about NIST [nist.gov] ? NOAA [noaa.gov] ? Do you judge their success by what the public thinks about them? Do they try to grab the public's attention to justify their budget? No, they just do their job year in and year out, and that includes R&D.

Lu's point is that maybe NASA shouldn't worry so much about their PR. Maybe they should concentrate on more frequent, but smaller steps. And build on those smaller steps, instead of always trying to grab the public's attention by making giant leaps (heh).

Re:This is BS (1)

Katatsumuri (1137173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547868)

Talking about LEO space tourism, I wonder what is the environmental footprint of that, and is it worth it? What will it do in terms of toxic exhaust? It may be mostly water in theory, but there are always by-products. And how will that affect the ozone layer?

Scientific and engineering missions that we have now are probably worth it, given their practical and scientific value - but frequent tourist launches? Wouldn't that be like a light version of dropping nukes for the lulz?

Re:This is BS (1)

Katatsumuri (1137173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547922)

Sorry for replying to my own post, but I've just found two interesting links on ozone depletion caused by rockets. Apparently, there is something to consider here.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/04/01/space_rockets_kill_ozone/ [theregister.co.uk]
http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a909005018 [informaworld.com]

Re:This is BS (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548046)

We don't need to "get people excited", they just need to pay for launches.

Since a manned program is not a matter of need, send probes, perfect robots, and concentrate on science instead of the wasteful drama involved in manned travel. Men will go into space wether or not the US sends them, and there is no reason we cannot mooch off the progress of others instead of pissing away money in what is a hangover of Cold War rivalry.

Space is a hostile place, and an expensive place to send humans, so why should we not take advantage of our ability to pave the way build remote-manned systems WE WILL REQUIRE ANYWAY???

Re:This is BS (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548144)

and sending people to the same rock over and over again is also not exciting to most people (witness the rapid dropoff in interest during the Apollo era).

The problem with public interest in Apollo is that we pretty much did the same thing every flight - went up, walked around a bit, picked up some rocks, flew home.

No base. Not even a little one.

No two Apollo missions at the same time - I was really looking forward to the first time we landed two LMs at the same place, but it never happened.

If you want people to pay attention to a manned space program, you need to launch often, you need to do different things often. If people see that this flight is building on last flight, and that the next one will build on this one, they'll watch. But they're not going to pay attention to more of the same every six months....

Re:This is BS (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548402)

If you want to get people excited about space, then send up a buxom babe to bounce around on the moon. Every guy on Earth will tune in to see how big breasts bounce in 1/5 earth gravity.

Sending tiny robots into space is not interesting to most people

Tiny? Cassini was the size of a small school bus. But at least robots are far cheaper than manned missions and return great science. And nobody dies if they flop. They are the work-horses of space exploration.
   

Re:This is BS (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548772)

We don't need more frequent launches, we need a manned space program that actually makes progress

To the contrary, we need more frequent launches because this is the great unexploited economy of scale in space flight. If you want a program that "actually makes progress", then it needs cheaper space launch.

NASA successful?!? (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547182)

Launching Frequently Key To NASA Success

Really, I wouldn't call NASA now "successful", if it wasn't for NASA having a nearly unlimited budget to compete with the USSR, they wouldn't have achieved much. I'd say "unlimited money in the hands of a simi-competent organization can let you do great things". Lets see what state NASA is at in 2009. They currently don't have a way to send things into space on their own, having abandoned the older designs and won't have Ares done till at least 2014. The Space Shuttle was more or less a disaster having lost 2/5 of the shuttles and really accomplishing very little.

NASA is by no means successful, just because it is more advanced than Russia's space program which hasn't changed for several years and has hardly any funding, the ESA which is more or less a bureaucratic nightmare, and JAXA which wasn't really formed till 2003.

Re:NASA successful?!? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547284)

If you are going to complain about the space shuttle, blame the whole U.S. government.

Re:NASA successful?!? (2, Insightful)

ChinggisK (1133009) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547288)

Jeebus, at least RTFS, please. It's saying that launching *more frequently* than they do now *would make* NASA a success. It does not say that NASA is currently a success.



*Also*, on an *unrelated* note, I *like* asterisks.

"Launching is frequently the key to success?" (1, Funny)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547262)

No shit, Sherlock? Good luck succeeding without launching. :P

(Yes, I know.)

Re:"Launching is frequently the key to success?" (1)

MooUK (905450) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547692)

Yeah, that's exactly how I read it.

Considering what a bunch of pussy-whipped bitches (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30547264)

this country has become, I'm surprised we can even manage to get a rocket into space at all anymore. How is it that "the Greatest Generation" managed to raise "the Biggest Douchebags" as children?

So....Let me get this straight. (1)

Stupid McStupidson (1660141) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547312)

In order for the National Aeronautics(rockets) and Space(rockets) Administration to be successful, they have launch...............rockets?

Define, "success." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30547314)

Isn't launching frequently the definition of NASA success?

I mean, would you think it was profound if someone said "Making money is the key to MegaBank's success!"

it would be a nice place to be (2, Interesting)

fermion (181285) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547354)

More frequent launches, cheaper better faster, reusable, and more reliable would be a nice place to get to. And it seems like it is being tried at NASA. The space shuttle was supposed to be something that launched frequently. The mars missions were cheaper better faster. Both showed NASA was not quite there yet.

NASA is not going to the be the guys for quick jaunts into space. For that to happen, the west is going to have to have a much higher tolerance to exploding spacecraft, and the economics is going to have to allow for profitable ventures to succeed even when the launch vehicle fails and the company gets sued because someone was woken up by the explosion.

Three other lessons learned from software development. One,doing more increase communications costs, and those communications costs can overwhelm a management structure. NASA does pretty ok with communications as launching a space craft requires a lot of high quality communication. Two, there is no silver bullet.Real problems are really hard to fix, and most of the time requires a novel solution, not just doing more of the same. Three, system can quickly become complex enough so that no one fully understand what is happening.Our machines do grow more complex and sometimes we don't know exactly what is happening.

Then, again, there is the issue of launch vehicles exploding in space. When google mail goes down, as it does, people are annoyed. When a launch vehicle does down, as happened two years ago with Sea Launch,the communication payload, launch platform, pretty everything goes kaput.

Speaking of Sea Lauch, I wonder if we don't have a launch a week from the various people who do this. Such a distributed system might be better as it prevent one company, such as google, from being the absolute arbiter or what is a good idea and what is a bad idea.

Re:it would be a nice place to be (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30548516)

Shit - these things are built by humans, for humans... So why human can't understand it?
It isn't that different from SW development - some get it, some do not. Period.

SSTO (4, Interesting)

tsotha (720379) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547356)

The best papers I've ever read on this subject were Jerry Pournelle's Getting To Space [jerrypournelle.com] and The SSX Concept [jerrypournelle.com] . Basically he makes a simlar argument in the context of SSTO. The problem with the way we do space right now is it's just too expensive to do anything useful. Things we could do like space-based solar power and asteroid mining are now totally impractical because it costs, what, $20k to put a kilogram in orbit? As long as that's the case we're pretty much stuck with LEO vanity projects. We can't even afford to go back to the moon.

Getting the $/kg to LEO down should be the single-minded thrust of the US space program in the coming years.

Re:SSTO (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30547816)

If we built and launched just one Super Orion we would never have to send anything but people into space again. And if we sent enough people up, that wouldn't be a requirement so much as a nice-to-have. Launching 3 million tons of cargo anywhere in the solar system would instantly create a space-based production capability and we'd never have to look back.

http://nextbigfuture.com/2009/02/updated-project-orion-nuclear-pulse.html

Single stage ground to orbit and other stuff (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547398)

I don't want to sound negative, but until we have a single stage ground to orbit reusable vehicle, this probably won't happen. The shuttle had the right general idea, but failed for numerous reasons and it also was not a single stage ground to orbit vehicle. One of those issues was the re-entry, which damaged the heat shield tiles requiring a large number of man hours to inspect and replace, and another was that it took for ever to get readied again for launch. There are technologies being researched that will resolve these issues, but they are far from ready.

Even if we consider a rocket based solution to the two week window, we have to consider whether the cost can be justified and whether safety can be maintained. These are two things that are of importance to the public funding the program and to organisations putting their precious payload on top of the rocket. The other question to ask is whether we have enough backlog to have a well managed two week window. I would be curious to know how many space programs NASA has delayed because of rocket wait time and how much more space is their for yet another non maintainable orbiting satellite.

Re:Single stage ground to orbit and other stuff (2, Interesting)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547600)

SSTO is basically a dead issue. Nobody has figured out how to build one. It may not even be feasible to build such a thing. Having worked in the field I can tell you one thing, its JUST barely possible to hurl stuff into orbit at all. The engineering is a nightmare. We aren't even close to anything like SSTO and its not even clear that if you could build such a thing it would be cheaper than disposable rockets.

The best idea anyone has come up with yet that is provably viable is essentially what the Russians do, a big dumb rocket. The concept could be pushed further but essentially the idea is you build a rocket using simple low performance systems. It will be BIG, but it can be built cheap and mass produced. Reliability comes from simplicity and when its cheap you really can launch on a fairly aggressive schedule and make it even more reliable.

The whole concept was mapped out pretty thoroughly in early 70's and many components were even built and tested. Engines fabricated out of ordinary grade materials with what were called "shipyard tolerances" etc. Totally gravity flow design with no turbo pumps or other moving parts. They're just big, but so what?

Re:Single stage ground to orbit and other stuff (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547836)

The basic technology to solve reusable reentry has been developed a long time ago. It is a matter of applying it. How to you think rocket engines manage not to melt during flight?

Price? (2, Interesting)

GWRedDragon (1340961) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547524)

This sounds quite nice, but consider the costs. According to NASA, each Space Shuttle launch costs an average of $450 million. Doing one each week would amount to approximately $24 billion per year in costs. This would be similar to the per-year project cost of the Apollo program. If we are going to spend that much, shouldn't we go to Mars or something rather than just throwing up a bunch of rockets?

Anyhow, given the debt that the US is currently putting itself into, it seems to me like it would be a much better use of money to create more 'prizes' for private builders...something useful that can be done at a fraction of the cost.

Re:Price? (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548060)

Why should we rush to send people at all?

Is there some desperate need to concentrate most our limited resources on manned missions?

Re:Price? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548290)

Doing one each week would amount to approximately $24 billion per year in costs.

And it would put about 1500 tons into orbit every year. Rather more than four times the current mass of the ISS.

Let's see. What could we do with that much mass in Earth orbit. Besides make the ISS about five times its current size, of course. Since most of our plans for Mars missions envision about 800 tons in orbit to send the mission off, we can do that. And an asteroid mission, of course, since that's easier than the Mars mission. A moon mission or two with the leftovers.

And that's just this year....

We are not rocket scientists, obviously. (2, Interesting)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 4 years ago | (#30547746)

But we can at least speculate on a realistic plan for frequent launches:

1. Adopting a limited number of launch vehicle types. Atlas, Titan, Delta, Ares or whatever it becomes, and maybe a commercial design or two in there, but probably just one. The Virgin/Scaled Composites projects are out of scope for this, let them do their own thing.

2. After certifying new designs and man-rating them, we move from testing to 'production'.

3. Ramp up launches so that you are probably only launching every 3-5 weeks realistically.

4. Allow for more launches when needed.

5. Multiple pads are in use. Currently, pads 36A&B, 39A&B, 40, and 46 are active, 37 and 41 are under construction for Ares (probably) and Delta IV respectively. So we could have 2-3 pads for big lifts, and 3-4 pads for utility launches. This makes some 3-8 week turnarounds practical, and some shorter.

6. Some rockets have different prep times. I suspect the goal of the Ares-type launch vehicle is to get it into a rapid cycle, but I dunno if Atlas, Atlas-Centaur, and Delta can be prepped that quickly. However, if you tell them you need 15 Delta launches a year, I be they can do it.

7. Now to get some payload for these. Certainly, sending a new set of Mars Rovers up would be cheapo science. I bet the guys at ASU could have them ready in a year. How about sending a set of them to a Saturn moon? Need bigger panels of course, and improved radios, but maybe send a Surveyor-style satellite up there also as a multipurpose mapper and relay? More solar expeditions? Venus has been neglected. replacement and maybe even return and refurbishing of some communications birds? There are plenty of projects.

8. Benefits; Regular routine launching gets everyone in the mode of a business-as-usual launch team. Practice makes perfect. Small problems should be detected and resolved. Obviously big problems get attention and maybe even a stand-down to work the problem. A multitude of small payloads spreads the potential loss, though in some cases I bet the vehicle is more expensive than the payload, if small science is a goal. And, and, maybe there builds pressure for more reusable vehicles. Routine launching makes the ISS easier to maintain, in a way, if you have regular smaller deliveries. Losing one doesn't hurt so much, and repairs can be done faster. Faster crew exchanges might be useful, especially if you just send a specialist up for a 3-week project, knowing they will be able to go back up in 6 months. You can work to improve experiments in a way you can't much do now with the expense and time needed to send up crew and equipment.

Can we hope there is some economy of scale? I'm not sure how important that is, since I think NASA should be getting a LOT more money, but I'm a space wonk.

Then again, maybe Rutan and Branson team up and make a servicable small payload launch version of the White Knight, and we get competition.

Thinking this through, NASA could probably do a lot of launches with not too much problem. And we could build or rebuild a few pads...

Re:We are not rocket scientists, obviously. (2, Informative)

Larson2042 (1640785) | more than 4 years ago | (#30548576)

You may not be a rocket scientist, but I am, so let me clarify a few things here.

You seem to be confusing ULA and NASA launch efforts here. The Atlas V and Delta IV EELVs are commercial designs. Titan is retired, never to be launched again, and the future (and ultimate feasibility) of Ares I or V remains uncertain. Also, under point 6, Atlas and Atlas-Centaur are the same thing. Atlas refers to the first stage booster and Centaur is the second stage.

Drastically increasing the launch schedule of EELVs would be a tall order, necessitating a great deal of infrastructure development. Where all the money for this, and all these extra payloads you'd like to launch, will come from I have no idea. Right now the gov't is up to its eyeballs in debt, and is rapidly increasing that debt bailing out automakers, banks, and lining congressional districts with cash for votes. I'd love you see the increase in launches just as much as you would (it'd keep me employed), but it's certainly not realistic.

But I have to take issue with the basic premise that seemingly underlies your post here, which is that NASA (or the gov't in general) needs to be the one designing, building, and launching these rockets. Why? Why limit the launch industry to one or two designs with the NASA-approved stamp on them? (Which may or may not be the best vehicles for putting things and/or people into orbit.) Why not promote competition and increase the demand for vehicles in the launch industry by getting NASA out of the launch business altogether. Make NASA a purchaser of rides, not a supplier. The launch industry can then build and fly the designs it wants and let a multitude of designs compete. My dream would be to see another few Space-Xs pop up in the next few years. Thankfully we're actually starting to see a little bit of what I want with the ISS resupply contracts to Space-X and Orbital. I would be even happier, though, if NASA were out of the launch business altogether.

To Read TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30548268)

To actually read TFA: http://www.bugmenot.com/view/nytimes.com [bugmenot.com]

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