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NASA Picks 5 Firms To Work On LEO Tech

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the quasi-private-at-best dept.

The Almighty Buck 116

Gary W. Longsine writes "Five contracts have been awarded by NASA today, to firms exploring different aspects of the effort to develop a private launch industry for people to low earth orbit. Today's winners include: Sierra Nevada Corp (aka 'SpaceDev') for the Dream Chaser; Boeing in cooperation with Bigelow on a capsule design; United Launch Alliance (Boeing and Lockheed Martin) to explore safety issues related to upgrading Atlas and Delta rockets to human flight safety standards; Blue Origin to build a launch escape system; and Paragon Space Development Corp for 'air vitalization' (aka life support). Will the forecast $6 Billion allocation over five years be enough to inspire private industry to develop not one, but two human rated launch systems (a capsule, and the lifting body Dream Chaser)? NASA clearly wants competition in the private market, so they seek more than one vendor."

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116 comments

Same wolf different clothing (4, Insightful)

assemblerex (1275164) | more than 4 years ago | (#31013858)

Billion dollar companies will buy up these small entities and we'll be back to $2billion launches in no time...

Re:Same wolf different clothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31013972)

Yeah they don't get it, where is the crew that made the Falcon 9?

Re:Same wolf different clothing (1)

SECProto (790283) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014014)

They are test launching it in March - after significant delays by the Air Force

That was the Falcon 1 (3, Insightful)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014132)

You mean Falcon 1. Right now Space X [wikipedia.org] is working on the Falcon 9 for launch this year. They are working with much smaller $ amounts than these 5 companies, but they're not working on human launches either.

I agree that it would be need to see a man-rated version of the F9, but I think NASA wants to focus on rockets that are available now rather than rockets that aren't yet available.

Re:That was the Falcon 1 (4, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014322)

Um... The Falcon 9 is being assembled at Cape Canaveral right now, in preparation for it's first launch in early March. It was designed as a crew lift vehicle from the outset, so it is "man-rated".

Re:That was the Falcon 1 (2, Informative)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014500)

Man-rated means that NASA has certified it's use it to launch people into space. Space X is developing the dragon module to launch crews and cargoes into space with the F9, but that doesn't make the rocket Man-rated [wikipedia.org] . I think it's understandable that NASA has chosen the Atlas V over the Falcon 9, given that the Atlas V has been launched 19 times with a near-perfect success rate.

Re:That was the Falcon 1 (2, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014956)

I think it's understandable that NASA has chosen the Atlas V over the Falcon 9, given that the Atlas V has been launched 19 times with a near-perfect success rate.

It should be noted, for reference, that Shuttle had flown 24 times with a perfect record before Challenger failed.

It should also be noted that Shuttle carried crews on each of those launches, unlike Atlas V.

Re:That was the Falcon 1 (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31015278)

It should also be noted that if you sum together the shuttle and all winged-body vehicles used since the 60s, the numbers shows that its more dangerous to fly these things, than to do a 3 year combat sortie in Europe during world war 2 (KIA ratio 1.4 % , vs. Shuttle etc 1.56 %)

But I rather sit on top of a rocket with a capsule than some freakish winged thingy. Will be interesting to see how Virgin Galactic will cope with the first fatal failure (and the business as a whole)

Re:That was the Falcon 1 (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015156)

And that it gets the money into their buddies accounts. Think there is no reason why the airforce keeps delaying the falcon 9 launch?

Re:That was the Falcon 1 (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015770)

The airforce? No... SpaceX keeps delaying the launch. The airforce happily provides them with slot after slot, in 3 month increments.

As much as I'm a big fan of SpaceX, they seem to be perpetually 3 months away from launch. Hopefully, this time, it's for real.

Re:That was the Falcon 1 (1)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 4 years ago | (#31016594)

Huh?

The Air Force is not delaying the launch. SpaceX isn't ready to launch it yet. The delays are caused by them, not an outside party.

Re:That was the Falcon 1 (3, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015808)

NASA has made no such choice, and Falcon 9/Dragon have been built to all published NASA man-rating standards. The problem is, NASA is perfectly willing to publish more standards later if they see fit. Ya know how developing software with incomplete specifications is hard? Try rockets.

Re:That was the Falcon 1 (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 4 years ago | (#31016816)

Giving a contract to the United Launch Alliance to look into upgrading the Atlas and Delta rockets for maned space flight constitutes a decision in my book. All the same, if Space X has a solution ready to go first I hope it means that NASA will use them instead.

Re:That was the Falcon 1 (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#31017188)

Yep, they're betting both ways here.. your comment indicated they were choosing one over the other and that hasn't happened.

Re:That was the Falcon 1 (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015820)

I suspect that man-rating Atlas V may be easier, since a previous generation of Atlas was man rated (Mercury-Atlas).

SpaceX already has NASA contracts (3, Interesting)

pavon (30274) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014396)

They were already given a contract to develop the Falcon and Dragon for use with delivering cargo to the ISS. See this (now out of date) wikipedia entry on NASA's COTS [wikipedia.org] program for more information.

Right now the Delta and Atlas rocket are the closest thing we have to a man-rated rocket after the shuttle retires, so it only makes sense that NASA would look into this route. NASA is very excited about what SpaceX is doing and once the Falcon 9 proves itself with unmanned cargo, I have no doubt that they will look into getting it man-rated.

Re:Same wolf different clothing (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014716)

That was my first thought too. However, after talking to people there and looking at the numbers, I don't think SpaceX was especially interested in CCDev.

There wasn't a whole lot of money being thrown around relative to COTS ($500M split two ways instead of $100M split five ways) -- the biggest thing CCDev provides at this point is publicity and mindshare as being part of the new path forward, but since they already have it from COTS they don't need to worry about the extra requirements CCDev would bring right now.

options (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014888)

It looks like all of those competing for this are "perch it on top of a rocket" systems, and the "Dream Chaser" team have already switched rockets at least once in their design history. It's likely that if Falcon lives up to its potential for improved reliability, it could enter this market later, as the lifter for one of the other systems.

Re:Same wolf different clothing (-1, Redundant)

JerryLove (1158461) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014038)

Of course. Buying all these small companies causes a lot of debt that needs to be recouped, and adds many more stockholders and executives that need to be paid... and then we bankrupt anyway from over-leveraging and need a bail-out.

Re:Same wolf different clothing (1)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014238)

Here's the problem with this whole setup. Competition occurs in pursuit of resources. Fine. Congress dangles resources in the form of free money, OK... the catch is that the corporations are telling Congress what to dangle. This is not really "competition" in the free market sense. It's more like a rigged game where the result is predetermined. If it's not there yet, give it a year and it will be.

Re:Same wolf different clothing (3, Interesting)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015018)

Just so.

Competition would have been offering two (or three or four or more) companies contracts for each general category of hardware (launcher, capsule, etc).

Picking one company for each piece of hardware is just handing money to someone and saying "Please don't just piss this money away on hookers and coke!".

Alternatively, of course, they could have done it the way the military does it - release the specs, allow anyone to enter a design, and hold trials. The design that wins, gets the contract.

Or the way that the military handles big-ticket items - same as above, but pay for development of the two or three most promising designs, then hold the trials.

Re:Same wolf different clothing (4, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014274)

Billion dollar companies will buy up these small entities and we'll be back to $2billion launches in no time...

And the people that created a new launch business are amply rewarded. Existence of an exit strategy, even if it's just getting bought out by a big player trying to maintain an oligopoly, is a necessary precondition for venture capital funding.

Re:Same wolf different clothing (2, Insightful)

Alinabi (464689) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014914)

Only in this case the funding does not come from venture capitalists, but rather from taxpayers who will see no benefit once we are back to $2 billion launches, so your point is moot.

Re:Same wolf different clothing (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015448)

Only in this case the funding does not come from venture capitalists, but rather from taxpayers who will see no benefit once we are back to $2 billion launches, so your point is moot.

Well, sure all points are arguable (that is, "moot"). That's not at all a useful observation to make. Perhaps you ought to look at where the initial funding comes from. That's VC territory. Also, who is charging two billion dollars for a launch? Nobody on the planet.

Re:Same wolf different clothing (1)

Alinabi (464689) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015562)

Moot is, originally, a legal term meaning "of no significance". Exit strategies in the context discussed are of no significance, because the money does not come from venture capitalists but from taxpayers (via NASA).

Re:Same wolf different clothing (1)

PaulMeigh (1277544) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015952)

The possibility of a lucrative exit allows the smaller companies to attract the sort of talent that is necessary to actually deliver the technology that NASA is looking for. This is hardly irrelevant.

funding intent for CCDev (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#31016256)

Billions for NASA, With a Push to Find New Ways to Space [nytimes.com]

"After spending $9 billion on Constellation, the program to return to the moon, canceling the contracts with Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Alliant Techsystems and other companies would cost an additional $2.5 billion, NASA officials said."

Well, it might be the case that some of the funding will come from private companies. I think that's the intent, anyway. NASA seems to have $6 Billion over five years allocated to development of commercial crew transport system(s?). That's half of what has already been spent on Constellation (in four years, plus termination penalties). Presumably they expect private companies to contribute the remaining development investment, in exchange for NASA getting out of the market (and thus becoming a guaranteed buyer, of a sort.)

Re:Same wolf different clothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31014920)

Hmmm...I don't think I would want to be the first to ride into orbit on the low bid solution :-)

Re:Same wolf different clothing (1)

FlightTest (90079) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014942)

Some of those small companies (Blue Origin and Space/X off the top of my head) are already owned by billionaires. What can Boeing offer Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos?

Re:Same wolf different clothing (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015550)

I don't think anybody's going to be buying up Boeing and Lockheed Martin anytime soon.

Re:Same wolf different clothing (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015636)

Billion dollar companies will buy up these small entities and we'll be back to $2billion launches in no time...

I think that's the first time I've ever heard somebody describe Boeing as a "small entity." Their Delta IV rocket can lift more payload to orbit than the Space Shuttle (and has been doing so for several years), at a price an order of magnitude lower than the Shuttle's.

Re:Same wolf different clothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31018590)

ugh..... lockheed martin and boeing?

they are already multi billion dollar companies. and they have been building spacecraft since my father was in diapers.
the big companies want fixed cost contracts. it means that they have a much more steady source of income. cost plus will only be done for really new stuff (advanced ion engines and space based fission reactors?)

LEO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31013926)

Dear editors, LEO is usually associated with Law Enforcement Organization

Re:LEO (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31013980)

When the context is getting people into space near Earth, it's understood to mean Low Earth Orbit. Hand over your geek card.

Re:LEO (3, Informative)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31013982)

Unless you're talking about space, where it is usually associated with Low Earth Orbit.

If there were only some contextual clue as to which acronym expansion was appropriate. If only...

Re:LEO (3, Funny)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014124)

But what about times where one is talking about police operations in space? How will we get our LEOs into LEO?

Re:LEO (1)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014176)

But what about times where one is talking about police operations in space? How will we get our LEOs into LEO?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Cops>Star Cops. The result of what you propose will be sadly underappreciated and forgotten, despite being one of the few examples of relatively good hard-ish sci-fi ever put on TV.

Re:LEO (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014190)

Well since they're tasked with enforcing Space Law, they'd obviously be a Space Law Enforcement Agency, or SLEO.

So you could have SLEOS in LEO, or SLEOS in GEO, SLEOS on a NEO, or SLEOS on a NEO in a Geo. Though that would be unwise.

Re:LEO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31014924)

Wait, are you telling me the North American Saxophone Alliance is working onLow Earth Orbit tech??

Re:LEO (1)

dancingmilk (1005461) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014012)

On a geek site its much more likely to have to do with space than law enforcement...

Re:LEO (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014134)

To be fair /. does talk about legal matters a fair amount as well. More context is needed than just 'it's on /.', which is given by the summary, so the point is moot.

Re:LEO (0, Redundant)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014154)

Dear AC, LEO is usually understood to mean Law Enforcement Officer when used in a law enforcement context. Not so much when talking about launch operations.

LEGO (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014076)

I first read the Headline, my brain told me "LEGO TECH", and I was momentarily excited.

Re:LEGO (1)

CAFED00D (1337179) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014160)

Extra points for the correct usage of "momentarily".

Re:LEGO (1)

wwfarch (1451799) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014412)

Is momentarily really misused that often? I can't say that I've noticed it. Do you have any examples of what you've seen?

Re:LEGO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31014630)

I'll tell you momentarily. (And yeah, I've seen that usage many times too.)

Re:LEGO (1)

CAFED00D (1337179) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014718)

I believe the correct usage should mean "for a moment," while it's commonly used to mean "in a moment." Many people will say "I'll be with you momentarily." In this case, the intended meaning is the latter.

Re:LEGO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31014776)

A woman in a bathroom saying "I'll be out momentarily"

Honestyl, no idea what GP was referring to.

A new capsule... (2, Insightful)

Cochonou (576531) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014138)

There are parts of this plan that really sound fishy to me. But of course, we do not have yet the full information about it.
Charles Boden says they are taking the "flexible path" drafted in the Augustine Report [nasa.gov] and not by any stretch bailing out of human spaceflight. Yet, they are cancelling the whole Constellation Project, consisting in the launchers (Ares I and V) and the capsule (Orion), while the Augustine panel had specifically kept the Orion capsule in all the flexible path options. Actually, they thought any redesign of the capsule would cause an unwanted setback of more than a year.
So now, we are redesigning again a capsule from scratch. I do not see how this implementation of the "flexible path" approach is going to give us any time (or money) benefits regarding the capsule. Are we supposed to put the astronauts directly on the top of the rockets ?

Re:A new capsule... (2, Interesting)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014362)

The Orion was being developed by Lockheed-Martin, but Boeing already has an Orion-like capsule design. So this may be more of a lateral move from one company to another than a setback.

I'm sure there's some good reason for moving from L-M to Boeing for that work. Not sure exactly what it would be, but I'm certain there's a valid reason. If only we could guess...

On a completely unrelated historical side note, did you know that Boeing moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago in 2001? In an amazing coincidence, I think some major figure in the US political system lives in Chicago, doesn't he? Isn't that terribly interesting, if completely coincidental and off-topic?

Re:A new capsule... (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014384)

Something to keep in mind here is that Lockheed Martin has been run ragged with a unending dribble of substantial changes to the Orion capsule driven by the Ares I and its limitations. Further, the Orion was originally designed just out of reach of the Delta IV Heavy (probably by intent). Given the ugly skeletons in Orion's past, I'm not surprised that the Obama administration thought a redo would be better.

Re:A new capsule... (2, Informative)

rijrunner (263757) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014454)

    Umm. The Augustine Commission report clearly states that Orion is overdesigned and should be scaled back and that EELV-derivatives would significantly reduce the costs of development, they just felt it may have been too late for that. That part was a judgement call on whether you wanted to keep funding or bite the bullet. The Boeing capsule listed is the Orion scaled properly to existing vehicles. It isn't like we have a bunch of Orion capsules sitting around and going to get thrown away. They are years away from bending hardware. There is also the matter that Constellation and how Griffin handled it was the real fly in the ointment. The capsule/EELV was the design that was originally approved for the ELV program under O'Keefe and that was trashed by Griffin and they had to restart from scratch. They have several years worth of design already done for the exact configuration awarded this contract.

    Even if the capsule set the design back a year, so what? The full scale Orion on Ares would not be flying until 2016, or so. By designing to existing launchers, we can eliminate the delays caused by concurrently designing a launch vehicle and capsule. If it takes 4 years to design a capsule, it'll still fly long before NASA managed to launch Ares and Orion.

    When you consider the differences in scale, you are not talking a significant change. The aerodynamic modeling is easily scaled, the command, navigation, and control aspects are also pretty much the same. The materials are pretty much the same. When you get right down to it, the setback in time is pretty minimal as they had not even finalized the launch weight on Orion yet as it had to keep adjusting for design changes in Ares. By having a sitting target to shoot at (the existing payload capabilities/requirements on EELV-derivatives are fixed), they will likely actually finish the design faster than waiting to see what those parameters on Ares would really turn out to be.

Re:A new capsule... (1)

Cochonou (576531) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014760)

Well, here is one of the relevant parts of the report. Interpret it how you like:

The Committee also examined the design and development of Orion. Many concepts are possible for crew-exploration vehicles, and NASA clearly needs a new spacecraft for travel beyond low-Earth orbit. The Committee found no compelling evidence that the current design will not be acceptable for its wide variety of tasks in the exploration pro- gram. However, the Committee is concerned about Orion’s recurring costs. The capsule is considerably larger and more massive than previous capsules (e.g., the Apollo capsule), and there is some indication that a smaller and lighter four-person Orion could reduce operational costs. However, a redesign of this magnitude would likely result in more than a year of additional development time and a significant increase in development cost, so such a redesign should be considered carefully before being implemented.


As far as I understand, the Boeing capsule is not the (Lockheed Martin) Orion scaled back. We are replacing a giant prime contractor by one other. And this capsule is still said to be bigger [parabolicarc.com] than the Apollo capsule. So I think you can understand why I am a little skeptical about gains in time or money. Of course, only time will tell.

Re:A new capsule... (1)

rijrunner (263757) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014994)

Its Boeing's OSP proposal.

The long pole in the development cycle was Ares, not the capsule. The capsule really could not go into final design until Ares settled down in terms of weight and they were a long way off.

They can start designing tomorrow for this with a fixed target. That alone is a huge gain.

Re:A new capsule... (2, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014468)

Look at it this way: The army doesn't design tanks. They just outline what they want, and then some company says "We can make that tank. It will cost $X". Similarly, NASA should no longer be designing rockets, capsules, etc. They should just be outlining what they want and having companies bidding on it. NASA was getting too deep into the design process, and it was bogging them down.

Re:A new capsule... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31015174)

Not sure I totally buy this. I work Orion and NASA has never performed my detailed design work. I get told they would like to see X, Y, and Z on the displays, to have the software be able to perform ABC when commanded etc.

There is a lot of redundancy with requirements oversight though.

Re:A new capsule... (1)

baKanale (830108) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014528)

I don't think they're scrapping the Orion capsule entirely. Bigelow is working on the Orion Lite [wikipedia.org] , a lighter version of the Orion that strips all the features not needed for LEO operations. Of course, since it's designed for flights up to the ISS or other potential space stations, not deeper space missions.

My question is, since the Dream Chaser seems to be designed for that same niche, are they supporting both so they can have their pick of crew vehicles in case one doesn't pan out, or is there another reason?

Purpose of CCDev (1)

pavon (30274) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015094)

My question is, since the Dream Chaser seems to be designed for that same niche, are they supporting both so they can have their pick of crew vehicles in case one doesn't pan out, or is there another reason?

These contracts were awarded as part of NASA's CCDev [nasa.gov] program. The purpose is to stimulate the market, and can be thought of more as research grant than being paid to deliver a product. The amounts awarded will give the companies enough money to fully flush out their design and begin prototyping. The idea is that as they get closer to completion NASA will pick the best one to fully fund for actual production and use.

Re:Purpose of CCDev (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015834)

"as they get closer to completion NASA will pick the best one to fully fund for actual production"

Maybe... that's definitely how NASA previously ran these things, when there were design competitions, and when NASA funded the vehicle development (and influenced the final designs), and then cancelled the program before it could be completed (which they did several times). However, it's not totally clear that this is what NASA has in mind, for CCDev. There are indications that NASA wants a private market, with more than one vendor, and plans to buy flights on systems from at least two vendors. However, there are other indications that NASA is just doing the same old thing with new program names, and a similarly anemic budget which will, ultimately, lead to project failure.

The Washington Post reporting on this seems to agree with you.
Obama budget proposal scraps NASA's back-to-the-moon program [washingtonpost.com]

"Instead of continuing to develop the Ares 1 and Orion, the administration wants to invest $6 billion over five years in a commercial space taxi to carry astronauts into low Earth orbit."

Re:A new capsule... (1)

downix (84795) | more than 4 years ago | (#31016246)

Redundancy, not being tied to any single entity, plus practicality, as each does a different job. And I'd note, there are three crew delivery systems listed, Orion Lite, Dragon, and DreamChaser. The advantages to each are dependent on what you do with them. Dragon is a stipped down capsule, quick n dirty. Orion Lite, even with the beyond LEO functions removed, is a beefier entity with the ability for longer-term functionality as well as more cargo capability. DreamChaser is a miniature space station on it's own, more PR-friendly as well with it's neo-Shuttle appearance.

While there is a lot of overlap, having this capability means if one should not pull through, we are not risking the whole program on this. The problem with previous programs is that each one became an all-for-one, like the shuttle did.

And also a bigger target.

Re:A new capsule... (1)

InsaneProcessor (869563) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014698)

Government sponsored = fishy. I don't see the problem here unless you want to consider, my money being confiscated to do something I don't want to finance. Oh wait, my grandchildren will finance.

Orion Lite? (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014774)

It seems the path isn't clear because the outcome hasn't been determined, yet. NASA seems to be funding the CCDev (Commercial Crew Development) [nasa.gov] program at a level far too modest to result in construction of actual hardware suitable for a test flight, at this point. They are dangling the the same carrot they did last year with COTS, that NASA will buy crewed flights from commercial industry. Nobody took it seriously when the requirement was issued in full Valley-Girl Voice: "fly our astronauts to the ISS a few times, like, starting next year when we retire the Shuttle, then we dump you and replace you with Orion, OK?"

The main difference from last year is that NASA is no longer planning to compete against those efforts, with it's own craft. That's a huge improvement from the perspective of a company considering this market, but it may not be sufficient, when it's clear that:
  • NASA doesn't want to be dependent on a single vendor, and would like two systems, from two vendors (a smart move, which will reduce the chances of long outages in the event of a design problem, as happened with the Shuttle, twice, but which cuts in half the number of flights you can expect to sell to NASA),
  • NASA doesn't seem to have a budget sufficient to fund full development of those systems,
  • NASA will only be buying a few flights per year to the ISS, for some time to come,
  • the budget for purchasing those flights has already been announced ($6 billion over 5 years), and
  • that budget is far lower than NASA's own estimate for building a single man-rated system (Orion + Ares I).

You can't just go to the marketplace and say, "I want to buy rides in nuclear powered DeLoreon [delorean.com] , and I'm willing to pay standard cab fare rates in the D.C. Metro Area, oh, and by the way, half of them should be rides in nuclear powered Porche, which I'll buy from your competition, instead of from you, oh, and I only want three rides per year," and expect that to actually happen.

However, everybody involved might be banking on the notion that NASA has now backed themselves into a corner. They won't have an option other than to buy from the commercial market, once Ares I and Orion are shut down. NASA will be forced to pay "market rates" for these launch services. If NASA doesn't fund the launcher development, and only buys 1 or 2 flights per year from each vendor, the per-flight market rate is going to be about a billion bucks. Don't like the price? We'll give you a discount, if you buy 30 flights per year so we can achieve economies of scale.

The other potential up-side is that private launch firms probably have some market opportunity to sell to other countries which would like to have improved access to the ISS, or other crewed access to space, but which have a reluctance to fund their own system development. Japan (HOPE-X [wikipedia.org] , and ESA (Hermes [wikipedia.org] ) are obvious candidates, having previously tried to build a crewed spacecraft, but potentially other nations such as India, which might elect to direct their R&D budgets toward in-space activities, rather than reproducing the ability to get there).

It also appears that NASA may be transferring the technology from Orion to a private company. This idea was apparently floated under the name Orion Lite [space.com] , with the idea being a quicker access to the ISS by reducing the capsule's life support requirements to a few days (down from a few weeks).

Re:A new capsule... (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015764)

Ares-1 was a clusterf**k. But we need Ares-V. Nobody has a Saturn V class launcher anymore, including the Russians.

Also, what is the US going to do for manned launches until Dragon and Dream Chaser are ready? Or are we going to have to beg for rides from the Russians and Chinese (and maybe India, too)?

Re:A new capsule... (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015848)

Also, what is the US going to do for manned launches until Dragon and Dream Chaser are ready?

What was the US going to do until the Ares I was ready to launch in 2017-2019, and Ares V was ready in the 2030s? That's what we had with the old program.

Re:A new capsule... (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 4 years ago | (#31018074)

We need a heavy-lift vehicle (HLV,) not Ares V. Ares V at this point is a paper rocket, not much more than a concept study, and one that made more sense when it could leverage technology from Ares I. What this budget includes is $3B over 5 years to support technology development related to heavy lift, something thats been neglected for decades. In 5 years, if the commercial infrastructure is in place and if this research leads to significant improvements, the design space will be considerably different -- a clean break would be preferable anyway.

As far as what we'll do for manned flight -- what we were going to do anyway, pay Russia $50M per astronaut. Ares 1+Orion were at about the same point in design as Falcon 9+Dragon, and the SpaceX offering is much simpler, meaning it's likely to be completed sooner than the program of record anyway. The flight gap was always going to be a problem. By creating a competitive, robust market for LEO transport we can hopefully avoid this in the future.

Re:A new capsule... (0, Troll)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015862)

Did you actually read the report? It's dishonest to act like you have when its pretty clear you haven't.

Oh, and it's The Flexible Path To Mars.. I know everyone is so freakin' lazy that they can't even write 9 more letters but they really do add something don't ya think?

"Flexible Path" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31017116)

The fact that these new contracts have been awarded so quickly shows that these decisions were made before the Augustine report was finalized. The new plan bears no relationship to any of the 'options' presented by Augustine, regardless of how Bolden chooses to label it. The only contribution of the Augustine Report was to codify the mantra that the 'program of record' would cost more than some arbitrarily selected historical estimate. The new plan was invented within the administration to distribute the new contracts to the new political favorites of the new administration.

Stupid approach, typical of bloated government (2, Insightful)

bradley13 (1118935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014344)

Study this, investigate that, make sure there is a contractor in every important Congressional district. Sick.

They ought to just pay for performance: We need X tons put into orbit no later than date Y, and we'll pay you this much to do it. Pick a payment that is half of what they are going to spend the "big government" way, and the contractors will still make a whopping profit.

Of course, that wouldn't put pork in the right pockets...

Re:Stupid approach, typical of bloated government (3, Interesting)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014508)

Don't forget to add "if you break our cargo, you pay for it."

If you want space transport to work like a trucking business, you should pay for it the way you pay a trucking business.

If you want space transport to work like a bottomless money black hole, you should fund it like a bottomless money black hole.

You get what you pay for, and what you get depends on *how* you pay.

Re:Stupid approach, typical of bloated government (1)

toastar (573882) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015004)

Don't forget to add "if you break our cargo, you pay for it."

If you want space transport to work like a trucking business, you should pay for it the way you pay a trucking business.

If you want space transport to work like a bottomless money black hole, you should fund it like a bottomless money black hole.

You get what you pay for, and what you get depends on *how* you pay.

If only we funded NASA the Way we funded the Pentagon

Re:Stupid approach, typical of bloated government (1)

2short (466733) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015240)


X tons into orbit on date Y is already available via commercial launch companies. The amount of competition in this market, and it's entanglement with government and politics are not in any sense beyond critique, but basically, if you want to put some mass in a particular orbit, you can get a price for that.

The question here is human space flight. We could say "We need X people put into Low Earth Orbit no later than date Y..." but the problem is that we don't. If we're paying for performance, we should pay for getting a particular job done, and let competitive companies figure out the most cost effective way to do it. But then none of them will use astronauts, because that's a stupid way to get stuff done in LEO.

In addition to subcontractors in key congressional districts, this (rather big) chunk of the NASA budget must be spent using humans in space to do something. It doesn't matter what. That doesn't really make sense, and sensible ways of paying for it don't work.

I think NASA needs to get (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31014410)

Nasty.

Serious. Just because you have an industry doesn't mean you'll have competition. Especially because it's going to be a small one with few players. You say to all these companies that you have to make all the items conform to what NASA considers a standard spec. Then NASA can interchange parts (and thus the suppliers) as budget calls for. Then you will have a competition, then you can build and industry.

As it stands now, you give one a guy a carte blache cheque, then your stuck with them for life because you are stuck with their shit.

Look at China and how they are doing their high speed rails, they had all competitors build prototypes and made sure that all of their stuff was integrated. In the future, they can just kick out the current provider and get someone cheaper.

Yarrrr (2, Interesting)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014428)

For some reason I misread "private" as "pirate". Which got me thinking.. How long do we have until there are Space Pirates?

It may sound far-fetched, but once the value of payload(s) exceeds the cost of launch by some degree, I believe it's inevitable that we'll see criminal involvement. Treaties against the weaponization of space, slow response times, and the ability to drop off both crew and payloads virtually anywhere in the world all make space piracy a potentially lucrative enterprise. It's debatable whether any existing laws would even provide for the prosecution of such activity. Maybe John Carmack is really the next Blackbeard!

Whoever the first organization is, and I'm not condoning or trivializing the potential for wanton death and destruction caused by Space Piracy, but I sincerely hope they talk like pirates.

Re:Yarrrr (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014472)

There aren't any treaties banning weapons in space, only WMDs

Re:Yarrrr (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31016290)

A potato chip tossed out of an orbiting spacecraft is an 18,500 mph weapon of mass destruction to anyone in a crossing orbit. Any treaty banning weapons in space is meaningless. All you need is the capability to get to space and you have a weapon.

economics of "Yarrrr!" (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 4 years ago | (#31016090)

The cost of the payloads already exceed the launch cost, by rather a lot. That's why people are willing to pay $10,000 to get a pound of stuff into orbit. The real trick is getting the cost of a pound to orbit down, and down substantially. That way Space Pirates can afford to get there, too.

Peter Pan. I'm captain of the Dream Catcher. (2, Funny)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 4 years ago | (#31014772)

- Peter Pan. I'm captain of the Dream Catcher. Grumpy Bear here tells me you're lookin' for passage to the Aslan system?
- Yes indeed, if it's a fast ship.
- Fast ship? You've never heard of the Dream Catcher?
- Should I have?
- It's the ship that made the Emerald City Run in less than twelve cowznofskis. I've outrun Middle Kingdom dragons. Not the local luckdragons mind you, I'm talking about the big Morgoth-bred firedrakes now. She's fast enough for you old wizard.

Re:Peter Pan. I'm captain of the Dream Catcher. (2, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015490)

Lol, that was perfect. Except google tells me that a cowznofski is actually a unit of time! Maybe that should have been in twelve potrzebies.

Re:Peter Pan. I'm captain of the Dream Catcher. (1)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015582)

Lol, that was perfect.

Thanks, 'cept that's supposed to be Dream Chaser, not Catcher. :-( He who lives by the spell checker...

Re:Peter Pan. I'm captain of the Dream Catcher. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31018020)

He who lives by the spell checker...

... does by the spell checker!

  - Quote Finisher

New Technologies -- Over Promised? (1)

4181 (551316) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015126)

Toward the end of Administrator Bolden's presentation at the National Press Club [youtube.com] (0:48:40) he mentioned that "game changing technology enables us to go to Mars in days, not months". Is this grounded in any reasonable expectation of propulsion development over even the next several decades?

Re:New Technologies -- Over Promised? (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015748)

Toward the end of Administrator Bolden's presentation at the National Press Club (0:48:40) he mentioned that "game changing technology enables us to go to Mars in days, not months". Is this grounded in any reasonable expectation of propulsion development over even the next several decades?

As this was an off-the-cuff response to a question, I'm guessing this he misspoke. On a number of occasions though he's spoken about getting to Mars in a matter of weeks, which is potentially quite doable with technologies like VASIMR, particularly if you launch your lander and return spacecraft to Mars orbit or Phobos separately.

Blue Origin? (3, Funny)

tomhath (637240) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015340)

Blue Origin: A normally secretive team established by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos...

How much does NASA have to send into orbit before they get free shipping?

Only $50M this year b/c of Congress (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31015798)

It's worth noting that NASA is only able to award $50 million this year due to interference by Congress. They had initially wanted $150M in commercial seed funding, but most of this was diverted by Congress [spacepolitics.com] -- in particularly Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Al) -- towards the soon-to-be-cancelled Constellation project.

Re:Only $50M this year b/c of Congress (1)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#31017934)

It can be guaranteed that Shelby's not doing anything for honest "this-is-what-I-really-think-is-best" reasons. There may be arguments for and against Constellation, but Shelby did that just because the work was being done in his district.

That guy's a crook.

Some thoughts on each of the companies (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31016122)

Some thoughts after watching the press conference [youtube.com] which announced the winners and reading up about the companies:

Sierra Nevada ($20 million): Their in-progress Dream Chaser reusable lifting-body spacecraft is really interesting, derived from NASA's HL-20 personnel launch system [wikipedia.org] tested in the early 90s. It's a pretty well-understood design, with nice features like reusability, being able to land, low operations costs, and the capability to launch on a medium-lift rocket.

Boeing ($18 million): For developing a capsule with Bigelow Aerospace to launch on a variety of existing rockets. During the press conference they mentioned that they're not only interested in delivering crew to both the ISS, but also the forthcoming market of Bigelow Aerospace's private space stations. The design will probably benefit from some of the work Boeing did 5 years ago for their Constellation/Orion proposal.

United Launch Alliance ($6.7 million): for an emergency detection system (needed for human-rating their existing rockets). Many of the proposals are planning on using the ULA's Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, so this is an important step towards man-rating them. The Atlas V is already designed with these sorts of emergency detection systems in mind, although it might be trickier for the Delta IV.

Blue Origin ($3.7 million): for developing a novel 'pusher' launch escape system and testing a crew module made of composite materials. The launch escape system is particularly interesting, as that's the main component which still needs to be developed for most of the other proposals. If Blue Origin makes a pusher-style system which can be sold to the manufacturers of other capsules, that could help bring those spacecraft online faster, and also give Blue Origin experience for making their own designs better. A SpaceX Dragon with a launch escape system built by Blue Origin would be pretty awesome.

Paragon Space Systems ($1.4 million): to build and demonstrate a turn-key air vitalization system. By turn-key, they mean a life support air vitalization system which could work on just about any spacecraft, an obvious boon.

Also, SpaceX and Orbital are still being funded for the (currently larger) contracts to deliver cargo to the ISS, which may be expanded to include crew transportation. They also stated during the press conference that other companies than these seven will likely be recipients in the future. Future contracts will be competitively awarded based on how well the companies perform (rather than which congressional district they're in, which is the status quo) and NASA's goal of achieving safe, reliable, and cost-effective access to orbit.

For the curious, I wrote up a summary of the press conference here [slashdot.org] .

What? No Northrup Grumman? (1)

re_organeyes (1170849) | more than 4 years ago | (#31017598)

For cryin out loud, how did they not get in the game? They seems to be in every other corner of the government market! Don't take this as a whine as to why NG isn't in the game, I for one am glad that they aren't. I would much rather see more smaller companies in there working for "the greater good" as it were, than the big boys. But, the big boys have some good technology that they bring to the table, but they also bring a hefty price tag and probably some nasty rules too.

More bailouts??? (1)

sp3d2orbit (81173) | more than 4 years ago | (#31018286)

When the US government becomes reliant on these (or other) companies for access to space will they become "to big to fail"? If they go broke can I expect another bailout?

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