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NASA Funded Commercial Space Projects Heating Up

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the let's-do-some-exploring dept.

NASA 48

coondoggie writes "NASA's role as commercial space entrepreneur is going well and the four companies it is funding to build future spacecraft that could take astronauts to and from the International Space Station and other destinations are moving forward. That was the chief observation in a status report the space agency issued this week entitled 'NASA's return on investment report.' You may recall that in April NASA split $270 million between Boeing ($92 million), Space Exploration Technologies (Space X--$75 million), Sierra Nevada ($80 million) and Blue Origin ($22 million) to continue development of commercial rockets and spacecraft capable of safely flying astronauts into orbit and to the International Space Station." Gubers33 pointed out another article about NASA's upcoming plans for Jupiter, Mars, and the Moon.

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Boeing got the biggest slice of the pie (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36616900)

Boeing got the biggest slice of the pie, what a fucking surprise. So when are they going to show off their launcher that has costs below that of Space-X?

Hardware That Doesn't Crash Or Blowup (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36617000)

Only a complete idiot would ride or put his expensive payload on the piece of shit launch vehicles the idiots at SpaceX slap together.

Re:Hardware That Doesn't Crash Or Blowup (0)

what2123 (1116571) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617054)

Only a complete pussy would post as an Anonymous Coward when they have something meaningful to say.

Awww, Teh Liddle SpaceX Fanboy Is Crying (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36617234)

Don't cry bitch, SpaceX serves a purpose in the space industry kind of like Rodeo Clowns - amusing and pathetic but fun to watch.

It is fucking sad that SpaceX sucks so much they can't get remotely close to the reliability of government launch vehicles from a half a decade ago.

So much for 'teh free market'...

Re:Hardware That Doesn't Crash Or Blowup (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36617430)

Fine. I want your real name, phone number, address, email, social security number and date of birth. That's the only way to measure the validity of your opinion.

(Oh, and "private space" won't change the simple physical reality that space is empty and the simple economic reality that most people are poor and the simple psychological reality that a thrill-ride to float in a tin can is a one-time deal. There's no market here. Even a retarded coke-sniffing billionaire clown like Guy Laliberte has the brains to only go once in space... Then what?)

Re:Hardware That Doesn't Crash Or Blowup (3, Insightful)

strack (1051390) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617208)

im pretty sure pretty much all rockets have failures early in their development careers. spacex mitigated that somewhat with having its failures on its smaller falcon 1 rocket, and once they ironed out the issues, built its larger more expensive falcon 9, which is 2 for 2 successes so far. so quit your anonymous coward bitching. spacex are putting more shit in space for less cost than the fucking chinese for fucks sake.

Re:Hardware That Doesn't Crash Or Blowup (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617682)

The original Atlas rockets had repeated failures, including one that blew up live on national network television. The Mercury astronauts were invited to attend that one live and in person, in hopes they would continue to support the rocket for when they would take a trip on it into space.... that was to happen just a couple of months later.

Don't go into how rocket manufacturing technology has improved so much since then, since it is still a crap shoot to see if the rocket actually works in the first place. There is some improvement in terms of new metallurgy and other stuff, but why is SpaceX singled out here from anybody else? Why does Boeing or ATK have a monopoly on the knowledge for how to get into space? (which they don't)

Building rockets is a tough business, and any new rocket is going to have problems. I sure don't know why the SLS is any better than the Falcon 9, other than the fact that it hasn't actually flown at all nor is the design even stable for that matter.

Re:Hardware That Doesn't Crash Or Blowup (1)

steve buttgereit (644315) | more than 3 years ago | (#36619482)

Good points... last I heard, rocket science was still, er... rocket science.

(Sorry someone had to say it)

Re:Boeing got the biggest slice of the pie (1)

Confusador (1783468) | more than 3 years ago | (#36618974)

Who said anything about a rocket? The CRS awards in this round were all for crew vehicles, and Boeing is predicting that they'll have theirs ready by 2015. Given that it's being developed in concert with Bigelow, who is quite interested in keeping costs down, it's likely to be cost competitive.

Look, I don't even like the CST-100, since it doesn't really push any boundaries (that's how they're keeping costs down). It still looks like a perfectly reasonable vehicle for NASA to support.

It's nice to see (1)

Normal Dan (1053064) | more than 3 years ago | (#36616988)

projects underway. For a while there it seemed like everything under NASA was getting shut down while still in the design stage. I understand there's still a long way to go before we can start visiting space again, but hopefully we'll get there sooner than later and with a cheaper vehicle.

Re:It's nice to see (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617736)

For a while there it seemed like everything under NASA was getting shut down while still in the design stage.

For awhile? When was the last rocket successfully put into service that was developed at NASA? Yeah, the Space Shuttle.... developed under the Nixon administration. So I guess we need Tricky Dick back in the game to actually get something developed?

The legacy of vehicles that have been canceled is insanely long, even when metal was "being bent" to try and get the thing up and going. Even a successful "test launch" like the Ares I-X and the DC-X wasn't enough to get either program going.

How many billions of dollars have been spent on failed launch systems? And we want to continue to pour money down that rat hole hoping it will change? We could do much better with that money, like provide air conditioning for our troops in Afghanistan. At least it would be better spent that way.

Re:It's nice to see (-1, Flamebait)

DarkVader (121278) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617820)

Dude, FUCK the troops in AFGA-ANYWHERE!

Those morons signed up for their own stupidity, let them burn in the heat.

Seriously, nobody who is in the military now hasn't either signed up during a war, or had the opportunity to get out by now. They're stupid fools, and they deserve to get themselves blown up or to die of heatstroke in a middle-eastern shithole.

Fuck them. I think we should stop the war right now, and not even bother to bring those morons home. Leave them there to die, it'll be cheaper.

Re:It's nice to see (1)

DarkVader (121278) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617852)

And yes, that's really heavy on the hyperbole, but we don't need to be in these stupid wars.

And yes, I do want to see the troops home home safely, but we shouldn't have been there in the first place, and we need to spend no more money than is required to fly everybody out. Now.

Re:It's nice to see (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617978)

While I strongly disagree with you, my point is that throwing money down the hole for the SLS program is as bad if not worse in terms of being a money pit. If you think throwing money down the drain for something trivial like air conditioning in the middle of the Himalayas is a bad thing, why might you support doing the same thing in the middle of the Utah desert to build the next rocket that will never fly? The scenery at Promontory, Utah even looks like you are in Afghanistan for that matter.

Re:It's nice to see (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 3 years ago | (#36618616)

Troll

Re:It's nice to see (1)

justsayin (2246634) | more than 3 years ago | (#36625290)

Uhh, how come this was not modded down? WTH? Slashdot fairies, where are you?

Sierra Nevada ($80 million) (2)

beefncheese (1663847) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617010)

Orbital beer runs? Awesome!

Re:Sierra Nevada ($80 million) (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617046)

Orbital beer runs?

Awesome!

Hey, they tried the Coke & Pepsi can opening in space thing, which was quite a lot more difficult to handle than most people considered. I don't think you can seriously consider space tourism until you have a Space Bar.

Re:Sierra Nevada ($80 million) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36621854)

Please. Sierra Nevada is working on a bottle rocket.

NASA you are officailly bush league (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36617024)

We're spending at least two orders more per year just on air conditioning in Afghanistan.

Re:NASA you are officailly bush league (2)

Normal Dan (1053064) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617062)

Imagine if we spent all the money from the war on space exploration. We'd all be able to leave this planet and not have to worry about what happens back on Earth.

Re:NASA you are officailly bush league (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617134)

Imagine if we spent all the money from the war on space exploration. We'd all be able to leave this planet and not have to worry about what happens back on Earth.

Yeah, then we'd be fighting in space.

and keep out of our gated section of the asteroid belt, private space way!

Re:NASA you are officailly bush league (3, Insightful)

slackergod (37906) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617322)

Actually, I'd be relatively ok with us fighting in space, if it meant we were trying to get into space to begin with.
Consider a hypothetical moon colony -
  • * War requires developing countermeasures for missles and kinetic weapons - these are already needed to protect the colony from asteroids.
  • * War requires radiation-hardening the colony against EM weapons - this is already needed to protect against solar flares and the like.
  • * War requires developing more agile, efficient drives in order to out-maneuver the enemy? This just helps us colonize further.

Much as a I'd like space to be nice and peaceful, that doesn't seem to be in our natures right now - and just shifting the theater of conflict to space would put the well-funded military R&D pipelines on track to developing numerous technologies that we were going to need anyways - but they'd do it faster than if the goal was peaceful colonization, since it's now a matter of "national pride".

War in space? That is soooo stupid (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 3 years ago | (#36621438)

Space is REALLY REALLY big. Space also requires multinational efforts to reach and operate in. There is no way we are going to fight wars in Space. Any country that has the resources to get into space is not going to risk having them destroyed. Indeed, with Space becoming privatized, there will be even less incentive for war to happen. Corporations can make magnitudes more profit from peaceful operations rather than supporting WAR.

Re:NASA you are officailly bush league (1)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 3 years ago | (#36621732)

Is it just me, or are you way off on your bullet points?

Re:NASA you are officailly bush league (1)

justsayin (2246634) | more than 3 years ago | (#36625310)

I am totally with you. We need Space Marines and a Moon base. You could sit on the moon and shoot rocks back at any country you want.

Re:NASA you are officailly bush league (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36617350)

Imagine if we spent all the money from the war on space exploration. We'd all be able to leave this planet and not have to worry about what happens back on Earth.

Yeah, then we'd be fighting in space.

and keep out of our gated section of the asteroid belt, private space way!

Nonsense, we'd just declare space a no-religion zone. Problem solved.

Re:NASA you are officailly bush league (1)

Caerdwyn (829058) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617136)

Imagine if we spent all the money from the war on space exploration. We'd all be able to leave this planet and not have to worry about what happens back on Earth.

...in which case the wars would be on Mars, the Moon, and Gliese 581d. The stage changes, but the song remains the same.

People are people. And that means war.

At the same time (1)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617574)

NASA has reneged on its deal with the ESA [bbc.co.uk] in a move that cripples international space ventures, damages Mars exploration and inflicts severe damage on non-American engineering companies. This is blatant nationalism over and above science OR industry. This is NOT acceptable and given that this isn't the least bit unusual (NASA's failure to have a shuttle replacement reneges on ISS contractual obligations, for example), it would not surprise me if other nations stop cooperating with NASA at all. Why bother, if NASA is never going to come through on the deal?

Yes, this would be somewhat cynical - all national organizations are going to put those they call "their own" first, above any actual merit or any legal obligation to which they are tied. It's cronyism on a national scale rather than a familial one. Nonetheless, incidence by other nations have tended to not be as... ...expensive as NASA's.

It's also a bit unreasonable, given that NASA is pwned by corrupt politicians buying voters rather than being devolved and semi-autonomous, to actually give more of a damn about the science than it is about the views of those politicians who can kill NASA utterly any year they like by simply eliminating it as a budget item and transferring all GFE to the military. As I've said before, a BBC-like charter system (guaranteed income for X years no matter what in exchange for providing Y services with zero government interference on how those services are provided, with all ownership being by the organization and not the government and all profit thus derived being independent of the charter's fixed income) would be the superior system for NASA. It HAS to eliminate politics, not just in part but in whole, if it is to survive, let alone have even an iota of respect from anyone.

Re:At the same time (3)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36618098)

International joint ventures, particularly between governments, is a foolish and expensive thing unless the point is explicitly to improve diplomatic relations. The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was precisely that, where the whole point of the mission was to increase the exchange of information between two nations that had spaceflight capabilities and learn how to help one another out if there was a reason for helping one another out.

Congressmen, the people who make the appropriations for NASA budgets, don't have many constituents in places like the UK, France, or Germany. Simply put, they don't care about international commitments as long as they can keep getting re-elected. A choice between killing their favorite pork project vs. some international space mission to Mars? The choice should be patently obvious.

BTW, Congress doesn't like to give up their political power all that much. Yes, they could make a long-term appropriation over multiple years, but they also like to micro-manage a whole lot, perhaps a bit too much. Why else is the SLS being called the "Senate Launch System" where not just the broad goals but the individual components and even the structural design are being designed by the wonderful aerospace engineers on Capitol Hill in the "upper chamber" of Congress? Even crazy details like the particular kinds of metal and the thickness of that metal in the engines to be used are even going to be prescribed by law. By the time funding is finalized, the contractors won't have to do anything but production work because the Senate will have designed the monster in such detail that they won't have to.

Re:At the same time (2)

Confusador (1783468) | more than 3 years ago | (#36619032)

International joint ventures, particularly between governments, is a foolish and expensive thing unless the point is explicitly to improve diplomatic relations.

Expensive I'll grant. Foolish depends on what you're attempting to accomplish. One of the causes attributed to the success of the ISS is that the international agreements made it too difficult for Congress to pull the funding in the next budget cycle. So if your purpose is to get a solid commitment to something, involving international partners may be worth the cost.

Re:At the same time (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36622358)

I'm all for establishing international protocols for cooperative ventures, such as establishing a common docking mechanism for spacecraft or working on deep-space data sharing protocols. The problem is when you try to establish some sort of joint-venture that requires an additional layer of bureaucracy on top of existing and highly inefficient bureaucracies, so it just throws more money chasing an ever deeper fiscal black hole.

The foolish aspect is if you are trying to do it to "cut costs" that is the last thing which will actually happen. If it is done for other reasons that has some sort of diplomatic benefit, then there is perhaps a considerably better excuse for it to happen.

As for the claim that the reason why Congress didn't pull funding from the ISS is because of "international agreements", my BS detector is pegging out on that one. The only reason why the ISS hasn't had its funding cut is strictly due to domestic politics, not any sort of international agreement. America has paid dearly for that hunk of metal, and no congressman wants to go up for re-election on the campaign platform that he quite literally threw $100 billion into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. If domestic support for the ISS ever dropped, no amount of diplomatic pressure is going to keep that station flying.

Re:At the same time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36619398)

If you're working in a technical field and haven't heard the expression, "Design by management," then you aren't working in a technical field. NASA has been micromanaged to death for generations now. Sadly, Congress is just conducting themselves as most bosses do.

just how commercial? (2)

SixAndFiftyThree (1020048) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617638)

This update [space-access.org] points out that dark forces within NASA are urging the return of cost-plus contracting for crew transport (scroll down to "Commercial Crew" section therein). This will get us straight back into the traditional world of missed schedules and massive overruns, if it's allowed to happen. USAan readers please hold yourselves in readiness to contact your elected lords and, um, representatives.

Re:just how commercial? (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617940)

Of course they are..... just look at the SLS system (otherwise dubbed the "Senate Launch System" in some circles).

The question about commercial spaceflight does beg this question: Would any of the current "commercial" companies want to go under that sort of regime, if it also required that they abandon all other customers beside the government?

That is precisely the net effect of that approach. Sure, we can go back to a cost-plus model, but we will also return to $20k/kg or more for vehicles going into space, which pretty much shuts down all other potential commercial customers. Between RKK Energia, Arianespace, China, India, and potentially even Iran (if you don't think their program is a joke) commercial spaceflight has essentially left America altogether anyway. The major spaceflight companies in America, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, ATK, ULA (yes, I know it is a joint-venture of a couple of the other companies on this list), and if you want to really stretch it perhaps Orbital...... so few commercial payloads are being flown now that completely shutting down commercial spaceflight would have essentially no impact and their only customers are virtually the U.S. government contracts alone.

By commercial contracts, I'm talking proven systems that we know have a successful business model in space, such as recon satellites (like what you see with Google Earth), telecom satellites, satellite telephone systems, and even commercial passenger flights into space. To date, the only private citizens who have gone into space have been on Russian spacecraft. Yeah, that is inspiring. There is a commercial spaceflight industry, but without really letting private companies like Blue Origin, XCor, SpaceX, and others really be able to compete on a global market for these payloads, this particular market may as well be completely written off.

I suppose laws can be written so commercial spaceflight in America can only be done with "approved carriers" on "NASA-designed equipment". Sort of like how PanAm got a government monopoly for international commercial airline service for many decades. That experiment worked out real well, didn't it?

Re:just how commercial? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36619404)

Teancum

Well anytime you bring in the politicians, you bring in their interests which are generally about bringing home the bacon type interests. This is just the nature of competing interests.

The bigger interest right now is that in order to get into space, you need something that is in very short supply in the US right now, that is access to capital. There really isn't a lot that can be done at the moment because of the overall economic uncertainties and the general desire of people to invest their money in derivatives or wall street. The powers that be, wall street really quite honestly doesn't care about space flight or the industry because it won't help their bottom line in the next quarter and increase their bonuses.

This is actually why you need the government to help with this as the government is much more able to invest in big ticket high risk ventures. It really doesn't matter what anyone says, this is a high risk and VERY expensive proposition, no matter who tries to get into the industry.

As far as cost plus, the best way to handle this is cost plus. There is a high risk involved with a project like this. So a vendor has two choices, either they make the project cost plus, allowing the vendor to make a lower bid, or you run a fixed price, BUT that fixed price needs to be at a much higher amount to accommodate those exact same risk factors. I bet you wouldn't like it if a company bid fixed price at the high amount but then none of those risk events occurred so the actual costs were much lower. Under a fixed bid contract, the vendor gets to keep that extra.

As for your laws comment, that would actually be a violation of WTO regulations and would potentially cause other countries to set up the exact same barrier (assuming that there are any US based vendors). The problem with Boeing and Lockheed, the two remaining traditional vendors, is that they chose to leave the commercial market. It wasn't that they couldn't compete, it was that they didn't even try to compete. The Military market for satellite launches is much more stable and consistent and the two vendors have an agreement to basically split the military market up. No need to market, they know how many rockets to build, making it a known low risk venture for them.

Regardless of what you think about the Pan Am 'monopoly' of the time, it was a different era, and there really wasn't many other companies that could compete if they wanted to. At least Pan Am wanted that market, neither Boeing or Lockheed seems interested in taking the risk. This is actually something that would be ideal for Lockheed as they don't have any material civilian business at all. This could be their way to get back in it and diversify away from military government contracting, but again, they just aren't interested. Makes it ironic that a military only rocket for the US government (the atlas V) has a rocket motor that is a russian design.

Article Ignores how much is being spent on SLS (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#36617846)

The amount being spent here seems to be a whole lot, until you consider how much is going to be poured down the "back-up insurance plan" with the SLS program just in case the commercial spaceflight approach doesn't work. I've heard estimates of about $3-4 billion being spent just on that one program, something that still has yet to even be figured out in terms of who is even going to build it in the first place.

Since when do you pay 5x to 10x the cost for an insurance policy to cover the value of what you want to protect against failure? I guess that is government spending logic for you. I'd rather have another dozen companies be trying to build something using the CCDev funding model than a monolithic cost-plus uber project that will never fly anyway. Even the Blue Origin spacecraft has a higher likelihood chance of getting to space than anything being done by the NASA directorates... and they seem to be the furthest behind.

NASA just released the status update [nasa.gov] for the CCDEV [nasa.gov] program. Stuff is actually happening there, and there may even be flights by the end of this year, next year at the latest.

Re:Article Ignores how much is being spent on SLS (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36618142)

SLS is NOT the back-up insurance. It is suppose to take over the cargo flights. In reality, it is nothing more than a jobs bill for those communists in Congress such as Dick Shelby, Wolfe, Hatch, Hutchinson, Coffman, etc. Those guys are KILLING NASA.

The good news is that NASA is actually stalling. If all goes well, SLS will die in about 2-3 years. At that time, I expect that it will only have costs us 4-6 billion. But for the final rocket, if delivered, I would guess that it will costs us 15-20 billion to get it out the door if allowed to go to completion. Worse will be that a launch will costs 1.5 billion or more.

OTH, if we can get NASA/Congress to do a COTS-SHLV, then we could get 2 SHLV for less than 5 billion each and have launch costs of less than .5 b. If that happens, then we can easily do the moon and mars.

CCDEV (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 3 years ago | (#36618624)

It may be a good idea. Don't worry though, Congress will kill it.

Re:Article Ignores how much is being spent on SLS (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#36619012)

The amount being spent here seems to be a whole lot, until you consider how much is going to be poured down the "back-up insurance plan" with the SLS program just in case the commercial spaceflight approach doesn't work. I've heard estimates of about $3-4 billion being spent just on that one program, something that still has yet to even be figured out in terms of who is even going to build it in the first place.

It's kind of terrifying when one realizes that the combined budget for SLS and the MPCV capsule is $2.5B/year, and it's expected to be at least 6 years before it's ready for first launch. You could buy quite a few SpaceX's for that much money.

How Long Until USA Orbital Insertion? (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 3 years ago | (#36618950)

Which of these funded corps will first launch and retrieve satellites while in orbit? Or can the latest one still keep closest to USA orbital continuity, but better than the first? The latter would be better.

And where's all the money going? (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#36619134)

Portable air conditioning packs, I presume

countertrolling & the trolltalk.com crew (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36621042)

Cheat the moderation system - here's how they downmod others, and this is where countertrolling explains what he's doing while he trolls others (to his fellow trolltalk.com friends):

http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2245866&cid=36491652 [slashdot.org]

And, here's where countertrolling's "troll mechanics" for downmodding others is explained in detail by someone that got sick of it happening:

http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2271908&cid=36579618 [slashdot.org]

As far as bogus up moderations, the trolltalk.com bunch (tomhudson, countertrolling, & others) collectively "team up" to upmod one another, in teams, as favors to one another.

(Talk about low, and bogus!)

An application of... "ReVeRsE-PsYcHoLoGy" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36621312)

"emuserp I ,skcap gninoitidnoc ria elbatroP - by - another done nothing with his life "ne'er-do-well" troll

"???"

* Uhm, lol... Could we get a translation of that "troll-speak" of yours, please?

(LOL!)

APK

P.S.=> Truce time yet, countertrolling?

The above was courtesy of this sourcecode (takes only seconds to apply):

---

#TrollTalkComReversePsychologyKiller.py (Ver #2 by APK)

def reverse(s):
          try:
                          trollstring = ""
                          for apksays in s:
                                  trollstring = apksays + trollstring
          except:
                  print("error/abend in reverse function")
          return trollstring

s = "String to reverse."
print reverse(s)

try:
                                                  s = "Portable air conditioning packs, I presume"
                                                  s = reverse(s)
                                                  print(s)
except Exception as e:
                                                  print(e)

---

... apk

OK... gotta ask... (1)

steve buttgereit (644315) | more than 3 years ago | (#36619440)

This is not a subject I've tried to look at with any depth. But I have this nagging question: how is any of this materially different than NASA's soliciting contracts from the major aerospace industry? Ostensibly, this just appears to be about bringing smaller, untried companies into the same general stable as the larger 'usual suspects'. I did see a note about procurement differences (i.e not cost plus contracting), but if that all it is this 'commercial space flight' stuff seems more to be branding by the powers that be rather than anything genuinely unique.

I think a lot of people are thinking of this more along the lines of business entrepreneurs like Virgin & Scaled that are investing a product and service that they hope will be self-sustaining based on market demand as opposed to merely a different take on government contracting arcana . Again, I could be completely wrong, but every time I hear about NASA's commercial space initiatives, and its process, it sounds much more like the latter.

Re:OK... gotta ask... (1)

Confusador (1783468) | more than 3 years ago | (#36620130)

It's not just that the contracts are fixed price, but also that they don't cover the entire development cost. The companies in question are investing their own money in the belief that there will be a market for these thing once they're developed (of which NASA is only part), and NASA is providing some grant money in the belief that some of these companies will succeed in producing options that will be useful to them.

Unlike the old model, the contractors (who I'd rather call grant recipients) retain a large amount of risk, to the point where one of them went out of business [wikipedia.org] because they couldn't meet the milestones under which NASA would pay out. It really is a novel way of doing things, although it's only a small percentage of what NASA spends. Hopefully these projects will be successful so that they can do more things this way, but it's really only appropriate for situations where the tech is well understood. The bleeding edge stuff will still have to be done the old way, since there aren't contractors out there willing to take those risks.

Re:OK... gotta ask... (1)

SixAndFiftyThree (1020048) | more than 3 years ago | (#36629758)

SpaceX, for one, has several contracted launches (announced on their web site) that aren't from NASA. The PR verbiage suggests that they won some of these on price. They'll charge NASA more than an ordinary customer, of course.

The big difference is that, under cost-plus, the contractor gets more profit by the simple and undemanding expedient of making the vehicle more expensive than it needs to be. That's how we got to this place where only megamillionaires can afford a ride to orbit. With fixed bids, the contractors get more profit by making the vehicles as cheap as they can be, consistent with safety and reliability (and no, I don't think any of those CEOs want their names to be coupled in the history books with dead astronauts). That has the potential to lead to a place where I could afford to take the trip. Not probable, but better than no hope at all.

Oh yes, and with four or five suspects, real competition is more likely to emerge than from a cosy duopoly.

Impedance mismatch re: "entrepreneur" (1)

timothy (36799) | more than 3 years ago | (#36627866)

It's all well and fine to talk about "NASA's role as commercial space entrepreneur" ...

Except that it isn't one.

Can you buy stock?

Is NASA seeking a profit?

If NASA fails, does it declare bankruptcy?

Is NASA part of the government and tax-funded?

I am not a big fan of NASA, though I am awed by some of the things that the very smart people of NASA have over the years accomplished. You may like NASA, your dad or mom or best friend (or you!) may work there, and you may unconscionable any suggestion that NASA is not a good use of tax dollars.

But NASA is not an entrepreneur.

timothy

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