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NASA, Congress Reach Accord On Commercial Crew Program

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the one-of-you-loses dept.

NASA 137

MarkWhittington writes "NASA and Congress have reached a deal on how to proceed with the commercial crew program that provides government subsidies to pay for the development of private spacecraft. NASA will select two competitors from the current four — SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada. A third competitor will be picked for partial funding as a fallback in case both of the main competing companies run into difficulties developing a spacecraft on time and on budget."

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Sierra Nevada? (4, Funny)

nitehawk214 (222219) | more than 2 years ago | (#40228957)

How is an IPA going to get people into orbit?

Re:Sierra Nevada? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40228999)

Lots of thrust?

3 out of 4 (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229005)

I have a hunch that "Sierra Nevada" gonna be the candidate that will get axed

Re:3 out of 4 (4, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229273)

The sad thing is that Sierra Nevada is in some ways doing more to help drop the cost of going into orbit than almost anybody else around. The Dream Chaser [wikipedia.org] spacecraft is really an amazing vehicle that is just beginning to reach a point of getting a payoff, which the early flight trials going on.

If they get cut, I hope that the investors in Sierra Nevada (and apparently Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic fame is one of them) continue to press forward without NASA funding.

They really don't deserve to be cut, at least so far as the investment being made by NASA into this company will likely produce some impressive long-term results. It is mainly sad that a jerk of a congressman who doesn't like these programs (COTS and CCDev) instead wants to dump 10x the amount of money on a fiscal black hole that will never fly (namely the SLS... aka the "Senate Launch System").

This move to reduce the options for CCDev is not going to save much money, and in fact it will set back commercial spaceflight by several years if not a full decade.

Re:3 out of 4 (3, Informative)

mark99 (459508) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229793)

What is your logic here? You think it costs signifcantly less to turn Dream Chaser around than a Dragon Capsule? It looks an awful lot like a Space Shuttle to me for that.
The two who seem to be doing a lot for bringing the price down would be Blue Origin (who are banking on a seemingly unlikely SSTO), and SpaceX with their Resuable Powered Decent stages (which also seem pretty far away at this point). It takes a 130 million Atlas V to put a Dream Chaser into orbit last time I looked, where as the Dragon only needs a 60 million dollar Falcon 9. Although Dream Chaser *could* probably fit on a Falcon 9 and in either case you are looking at additional costs on top of the basic launcher.

Re:3 out of 4 (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230741)

IMHO, "looks like the space shuttle" is a pretty flimsy excuse. The Space Shuttle was a victim of two things: massive budget cuts in the development program, and being a first-generation reusable -- aka, it should have been seen as a testbed for learning rather than a workhorse. This craft seems to have the major lessons learned from the shuttle program down - top mount (lower vibrational load, no debris impacts, etc), single-piece TPS to save on maintenance, much smaller vehicle (the smaller the craft, the higher your surface area to mass ratio, greatly simplifying reentry), lifting body to reduce wing mass, less of the boost phase coming from the orbiter (again, keeping the orbiter smaller and lighter, simplifying reentry), and so forth. Doesn't look half bad to me.

Re:3 out of 4 (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40231213)

The Space Shuttle was a victim of two things: massive budget cuts in the development program, and being a first-generation reusable

In other words, NASA badly overspent on a first generation reusable. If the Space Shuttle had been able to carry a couple of people and a little payload, it'd have fit quite nicely into NASA's existing ( and for the foreseeable future) budget. Instead, they built the successor to the Saturn V. It sucked the oxygen out of the room for any other large space projects that didn't involve the Shuttle and contributed to its survival in some way.

Re:3 out of 4 (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#40231419)

It was too ambitious. It wasn't overbudgeted for what they were trying to accomplish (and after the budget cuts, it was way underbudget for what they were trying to accomplish). They were, however, trying to accomplish too much, and especially for a first-gen.

Re:3 out of 4 (3, Insightful)

mark99 (459508) | more than 2 years ago | (#40231575)

I think the Space Shuttle was just a big flop that only escaped being cancelled because the US Government has such deep pockets. In the end, in fact way before the end, it was a jobs program more than anything else. It set the space program back something like 20-30 years.
I don't understand why people can't just admit it was a horrible mistake. Actually, of course I do understand, so many valuable lifetimes of work were sunk into it.We have to pretend.... But we should have just been building cheaper rockets (which the two other programs on the table proposed) - or funding a Ramjet, or Roton, or almost anything else. The only really useful thing the Shuttle did was repair Hubble.

Imagine where we would be now if NASA had done something like COTS 20 years ago after Challenger blew up instead of building another Shuttle.

Re:3 out of 4 (3, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232359)

I don't think it's that clear cut. As I mentioned before, the problems were overambition and budget cuts during the development process that made everything worse.

The overambition is actually quite understandable. Think of what we had gone from, at the start of the 1960s to the Apollo moon landings. This incredible pace of accomplishment was driving people's sci-fi dreams of the future wild, even people in high places. The notion was that, clearly, we're about to become a spacefaring race in a major way, we need a vehicle to haul people and tons of cargo with a rapid launch rate turnaround; that's where the inception of the concept came from. Of course, that was not to happen, and not only due to the fault of the shuttle program.

If the overambition itself wouldn't have doomed the goal of affordable reusable spaceflight, the budget cuts in development (brought about in no small part due to the Vietnam War) certainly did. The sacrifices made in development to accommodate them pretty much ensured that it would not be a reliable, affordable system. Turning to the air force for funding meant adding crossrange capability and even greater cargo capability. Disastrous. The lower level of funding meant less system reuse and higher maintenance on the systems that were to be reused. For example, the early shuttle designs called for a titanium frame which could run hot, instead of the current (cheaper) aluminum frame which can't. Letting the frame get hotter means you can use a simpler, and thus easier to maintain, TPS. Not to mention safer; the Columbia disaster couldn't have happened and there wouldn't be nearly as much metal fatigue concerns.

Again, hindsight is always 20-20, but it's easy to see how the problems came about from overambition and then huge budget cuts in development. And I don't think calling it a jobs program, at least initially, is totally fair. Unlike Ares, which is "let's use as much shuttle hardware as we can to keep the plants open and keep developing it even when there's no longer a niche for it", the Shuttle wasn't heavily based on Saturn hardware. Now, what I think clearly became a jobs program and takes no hindsight to see is that when the Shuttle program went down the tubes, and it clearly had failed at its nominal goal of affordable reusable spaceflight, of not only keeping it running but keeping it as the workhorse of the US spaceflight fleet.

Re:3 out of 4 (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40233383)

I don't think it's that clear cut. As I mentioned before, the problems were overambition and budget cuts during the development process that made everything worse.

The problem with your interpretation is that: a) The budget cuts were well known from about 1968. The design should have been scaled down from the start. It's worth remembering that NASA had a large budget for only a few years. I think it was very foolish to assume that NASA would get 2% or more of the federal government for the indefinite future.

b) NASA even after budget cutbacks still outspent every other space program on the planet and has done so for about four decades.

And while I'm thinking of it, there's c) if NASA had a larger budget, then it's ambitions would probably have scaled to consume that budget as well. Perhaps not with the Shuttle itself, but they'd have found a way.

So simply put, NASA and its Space Shuttle were too ambitious. One should not blame the budget which was a known quantity and something which couldn't be sustained at the brief peak it has been at.

Re:3 out of 4 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40230323)

If they get cut, I hope that the investors in Sierra Nevada (and apparently Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic fame is one of them) continue to press forward without NASA funding.

Sierra Nevada Corp is a privately owned company. It is wholly owned by the married couple Faith and Eren Ozmen who are originally from Turkey. http://www.ehow.com/about_5059106_sierra-nevada-corporation-history.html [ehow.com]

In 1994, senior management, and husband and wife, Faith and Eren Ozmen purchased Sierra Nevada Corporation. The team developed the company from a small mid-level military contractor into a major air force supplier.

No one has any ownership of the company except the Ozman's. There is no employee stock ownership program.

Re:3 out of 4 (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232227)

Richard Branson's involvement is to use the Dream Chaser as the orbital spaceflight vehicle for Virgin Galactic. He is investing "seed money" and essentially offering a hard purchasing contract for the vehicles once they are built. That may not translate into actual stock ownership of the company, but it does make him an investor after a fashion and somebody important to consider in terms of company finances.

There are other people involved, and what is now known as the Dream Chaser has a fairly interesting development history that is worth looking at as well.

Re:3 out of 4 (2)

strack (1051390) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230891)

it doesnt exist yet. it hasnt flown, and its still more expensive per pound than the dragon, which has flown twice and is cheaper per pound. so if you could illuminate how the dreamchaser is doing more than spacex in dropping the cost of going to orbit for all of us, were all ears.

Re:3 out of 4 (1)

JWW (79176) | more than 2 years ago | (#40231861)

I think theres a very good chance that the one of the four that gets completely cut could easily end up getting bought out by one of the others in order to get access to some of the developed technology.

Specifically, I'd look for Boeing to buy the odd company out in this situation. Yes, that means I think there's no chance Boeing would be the odd company out.

Re:3 out of 4 (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232159)

The current four companies are:

  • * Boeing
  • * Blue Origin
  • * SpaceX
  • * Sierra Nevada

Of these four companies, the only one I could possibly see being "bought out" is Sierra Nevada. They have other projects going right now and while the Commercial Crew is a wonderful bonus and useful for the development of their company, they aren't necessarily dependent upon just this one contract in order to continue to exist as a company.

There is no bloody way upon this green Earth that either Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos is going to sell out to Boeing, although I could see those two possibly proposing a merger or joint venture to buy out Boeing. Of course that would be like a guppy eating a whale in terms of the relative size of those companies.

The only real down select that is going to halt further development of space vehicles would be if Boeing is cut out, as they are oriented towards meeting government contracts. Even that seems dubious in terms of commercial ventures with the CST-100.

Of course I think this whole down select is pointless as well. None of the CCDev contracts are really anything more than some minor seed money to help encourage what these companies are already doing and hoping it will translate into proven vehicles that will go to the International Space Station once they are built. ATK with their Liberty rocket is technically in the program as well, even though they aren't receiving any money (but ATK is getting technical assistance from NASA under this program). Down selecting as worded with this particular congressional amendment would cut out even this "technical consulting" similar to what ATK is getting at the moment.

Re:3 out of 4 (1)

JWW (79176) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232213)

In retrospect, my post could have been simpler had I just said:

I think Sierra Nevada will be left out and Boeing will probably buy them.

Your analysis is spot on.

Re:Sierra Nevada? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40229043)

With a hop rocket Hop Rocket [blichmannengineering.com] .

lobby (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40228989)

those that payout first win...

We have already failed (3, Funny)

subreality (157447) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229011)

pay for the development

It works the same in NASA as it does in software dev: you get what you pay for. If you want results, pay for results. If you pay for development, all you get is lots of development.

Re:We have already failed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40229059)

Our government is remarkably bad at buying software. At least when we buy things, we usually get *something*. Unfortunately, the next generation of spaceship is likely to be almost exclusively software.

Re:We have already failed (2)

SomePgmr (2021234) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229395)

At least when we buy things, we usually get *something*.

You're in the business of buying military aircraft, aren't ya. ;)

We've got a good long list of bullshit warplanes that just don't work right, to the tune of billions of dollars. But hey, at least we've got handfuls of those futuristic-looking planes, even if they can't fly combat missions.

Re:We have already failed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40229069)

No, it's a success. You misunderstood the objective.

Re:We have already failed (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229193)

He didn't say it was a failure, just that you get what you pay for. Which I suspect you solidly agree with.

Re:We have already failed (5, Insightful)

davester666 (731373) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229407)

Not really.

There is what, a 99.9999999999999% chance that Boeing is selected, and will promptly game the setup to gobble most of the cash. They will provide extremely well-written reports as to why they need more cash in order to deliver the results that are requested.

Re:We have already failed (1)

tisepti (1488837) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229517)

Well, reliability does seem like a good sort of attribute for the winner to possess.

Re:We have already failed (1)

catmistake (814204) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230787)

Not really.

There is what, a 99.9999999999999% chance that Boeing is selected, and will promptly game the setup to gobble most of the cash. They will provide extremely well-written reports as to why they need more cash in order to deliver the results that are requested.

NASA has been steadily losing government funds since the Apollo program ended. I think the lucritiveness of government funding for commercial spaceflight is probably a myth. I have a feeling the government subsidies are going to be token payments and tax breaks, not amounting to much more than a negligible portion of the total budget for any individual spaceflight endeavor. The rest of the budget will have to come from investors, who no doubt turn around and pass the savings on to the customers.

Re:We have already failed (1)

awrowe (1110817) | more than 2 years ago | (#40233455)

You don't mean....investors will actually have to take a risk, do you?

That's an entirely new concept. Its always been "1) invest in the bigass company which has all the government contracts, 2) profit."

If this is the case, it can only be a good thing. Time for governments to be less of a pork barrel and more of a background participant.

Re:We have already failed (2)

Eravnrekaree (467752) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232743)

This is really frightening. Many of the existing large contractors such as Boeing and those for the Space Shuttle are those who are largely to blame for the huge costs of American space technology that has really threatened the US space industry and its ability to compete with the Russians and the French/ESA.

People often blame NASA for the mess that was the shuttle, which was a very expensive launch vehicle to operate. The shuttle should have been abandoned years before and replaced with better technology, but the companies that manufactured the shuttle just loved it because it for the VERY REASON that it was a space craft that was far more expensive than a space craft needed to be. Corporations got wealthy because the US had a very inefficient launch platform.

People often blame NASA for the mess that was the shuttle, which was a very expensive launch vehicle to operate. But, this is misplaced, many do not understand that NASA does not really build the shuttle but it is contracted to private companies, and NASA itself was getting increasingly little capability to actually stop the shuttle and replace it with something better, because the funding is being controlled by Congress who is bought off by the companies that built the shuttle. This is why blaming NASA for the shuttle white elephant is nonsense from people who dont understand much about how things work, because Congress is to blame. Congress made efforts to lock in funding to the SLS programs which are completely uncompetitive as a kickback to large corporations that give kickbacks to congress members, usually Republicans. Shelby of Alabama (Republican) for instance tried to pass bills that would have locked in funding for SLS even though it is a mostly unworkable vehicle that seems to duplicate the massive inefficiencies of the shuttle program. This means that decisions about the space program were being attempted to be made by politicians based on bribery from corporations rather than based on science.

There were probably a lot of people in NASA who wanted to find a cheaper way to do launches, but due to the fact that it is controlled by Republican pork barrel in Congress, NASA has been under a toxic and politicized miasma imposed on it from congress.

In regards to CCP, I think that what we are seeing again is congressional meddling in these affairs which seems designed to once again to retard the US space industry by locking us into expensive technologies from the likes of Boeing. I believe all of the CCP programs really ought to continue to be funded, it sure is a hell of a lot better of a value than the wars in iraq and afghanistan.

Re:We have already failed (1)

Eravnrekaree (467752) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232925)

PS: it Rep. Shelby of Alabama (R) who wanted to lock in SLS funding, represents the district in Alabama where the SLS is built, so it was pure pork barrel. It was in fact Obama and Democrats who stopped the SLS lock in and continued work on the CCP, because the SLS was primed to turn into another white elephant.

The launch technology should be based on science and technocracy rather than based on the good old boys networks of Republican politicians who are given kickbacks by corporations.

Re:We have already failed (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40229427)

ME: HELLO KOKGOBBLER!

You: GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE!

ME: Alrighty then! Carry on! *Leaves*

Re:We have already failed (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230767)

While that does present a conflict of interests, there is a big double-bind - namely, that these companies are doing development projects that are generally too large and risky for even large private companies to be comfortable gambling on by themselves; for smaller companies, the concept is right out. It'd be hard to get any serious bids at all without helping with development. So yes, what you mentioned is a serious critique, it's not without reason that NASA does development contracts. And it's a cash amplifier, too - landing a NASA contract makes it *much* easier to land other private funding.

Bye Bye Blue Origin (0)

Usually Unlucky (1598523) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229025)

We all know which one will be dropped

Blue Origin and their SSTO nonsense should have never received a dime of public money to begin with.

Good riddance.

Re:Bye Bye Blue Origin (3, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229399)

Blue Origin and their SSTO nonsense should have never received a dime of public money to begin with.

So you think the DC-X program [wikipedia.org] was a terrible waste of tax dollars? Why are you upset that a private company without tax dollars is furthering the research into that flight concept and propulsion system?

Furthermore, do you even have a clue what part of the CCDev program that Blue Origin is even doing, what their spacecraft actually is supposed to look like, or how it is going to get into orbit much less return to the Earth? If you did, you wouldn't have made such a stupid statement presuming something that wasn't even true.

*Hint* -- Blue Origin proposed to use the Lockheed-Martin Atlas V for the launch of its spacecraft under CCDev. They aren't even planning on flying their own hardware for the first stage or two.

Re:Bye Bye Blue Origin (2)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229999)

I have to disagree with you on SSTO being nonsense - only a small percentage of the cost of an orbital launch is the unavoidable fuel costs, much of the rest is in ground control and and the fact that we're basically throwing away everything except for the orbital capsule with every launch. That made great sense during the cold war when the space program was basically PR campaign piggybacking on ICBM technology to reach orbit - and an ICBM is pretty much by definition a single-shot vehicle and requires ground control because we're squeamish about both suicide missions and autonomous nukes. The space shuttle was a...change from that, but still used much of the same philosophy, just with a larger, more sophisticated orbital capsule

In the modern world where the space is becoming a thriving commercial destination a reusable launch vehicle that doesn't require extensive ground control makes a lot more sense. Granted SSTO has some problems - not really much call to carry the full mass of the launch vehicle all the way to orbit where you'll just be stuck shoving around a lot of useless mass, but the Blue Origin New Shepard [wikipedia.org] seems to be moving in the right direction as a reusable, suborbital launch system with a separable crew module. Assuming the long term goal is to replace the expendable Atlas rocket family with a reusable Shepard descendant it actually makes a lot of sense - even if the eventual Shepard N were to cost 100x what an Atlas rocket does, the fact that it would require minimal ground support and could relaunch almost immediately with minimal maintenance means it could pay for itself within a year or two. The fact that they're doing something fundamentally new though does boost the development costs considerably, especially if you consider the current generation to be a research prototype with few if any direct applications. It could make sense to help fund its development not because you want this vehicle, but because you want the vehicle this vehicle's technology will enable once proven and refined. A true long-term investment if you will - exactly the sort of thing governments tend to be better at funding than private industry.

Re:Bye Bye Blue Origin (3, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230931)

New Sheperd in all regards hits me as pure naivete. For example, using HTP as an oxidizer. I'm well familiar with the logic here. "Oh, sure, it's got less ISP than LOX, but it's SIMPLER! And ISP isn't everything! We'll go simple and cheap, and get a simple, cheap craft!"

And that logic is wrong.

First off, the lesser issue: ISP may not be everything, but it's huge. The scaling factor for having bad ISP is pretty massive, and your other costs will add up quickly as your craft balloons, everything from your transport costs to your launch liability. People who just discount it like that do a big disservice to themselves.

But the bigger issue: HTP is *not* simpler than LOX. It's a giant pain in the arse. It's explosive, which requires that you have sterile, defect-free tanks and systems with very specific materials requirements and purity constantly maintained. Its explosivity can be greatly reduced by the presence of stabilizers, but therein lies the other problem: the more stable you make it, the less reactive it becomes, and if you're using any sort of catalyst pack (which themselves are full of problems), you tend to clog it. Peroxide vapors from even stabilized HTP are explosive. Stored HTP can become less stable over time, and leaks can be catastrophic (as many people, perhaps most famously in recent years the crew of the Kursk, have learned). Heat can set it off. It's difficult and dangerous to concentrate in terms of oxidizer production. It's illegal to ship in tanker trucks due to its hazardous nature. Etc.

People think about household H2O2 solutions and just picture a more powerful version of that. That is not what HTP is like. The Germans and later the US went with HTP a lot early in their rocketry programs. The fact that its usage became greatly curtailed over time should speak volumes.

Basically, HTP is just reinventing a bad wheel. There's one little explored fuel combination that I'd like to see more focus on, personally: LOX/Propane. Propane is of course widely available, cheap, and easy to transport. It's higher ISP than RP1 (LOX/RP1 being a common propellant combination), but the downside when you first look at it in a table is it's much lower density. BUT, at the same temperature as your LOX - aka, they can share a common bulkhead without insulative separation, reducing system mass -- it's actually quite dense. LOX/Propane is also easier to vaporize and ignite.

Re:Bye Bye Blue Origin (3, Informative)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232225)

Map legend for non-rocket scientists:
HTP == High Test Peroxide [wikipedia.org] , a high percentage Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) solution.
ISP == Isp == Specific Impulse [wikipedia.org] , basically MPG for rockets.
LOX == LOx == Liquid Oxygen [wikipedia.org] , not smoked salmon.
RP1 == RP-1 == Rocket Propellant 1 [wikipedia.org] , a highly refined kerosene used as a rocket fuel.

Re:Bye Bye Blue Origin (3, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230819)

Ah, SSTOs... It's not that the concept is wrong. It's not even that it's impossible with current fuels and materials. The problem is that it's so *close* to impossible that the difficulty of creating such a craft inevitably leads to big complications.

Lockheed? Orion? (1)

Mt._Honkey (514673) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229119)

What happened to Orion? When I visited Lockheed in December they were all gung-ho building a spacecraft. Not that I'm pushing for it, just wondering why it is apparently no longer a factor.

Re:Lockheed? Orion? (2)

tipo159 (1151047) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229179)

This "accord" is for low earth orbit commercial space launches. Orion is intended for beyond LEO. Or something like that.

Re:Lockheed? Orion? (2)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229195)

Orion is not meant for ISS operations. Orion is meant for Beyond Earth Orbit: asteroid and lunar exploration, that sort of thing.

Re:Lockheed? Orion? (5, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229359)

Orion is not meant for ISS operations. Orion is meant for Beyond Earth Orbit: asteroid and lunar exploration, that sort of thing.

That isn't what NASA was saying back when the Ares I was still under active development. The Ares I was being designed specifically so the Orion capsule could get to the ISS (complete with an ISS mating adapter) that really makes it a direct competitor to the SpaceX Dragon, at least for manned spacecraft.

Orion really does a lousy job for areas beyond LEO though. While it has just under 2x the usable internal volume that the Apollo spacecraft used, that won't exactly be something to brag about. Perhaps reasonable for a trip to the Moon, but I don't see how it will possibly be used on a trip to an asteroid much less Mars. The "habitable volume" of the Orion is very much comparable to the internal volume of the Dragon. I just don't see how astronauts are going to be expected to hang out in that kind of volume for weeks and months.

What makes the Orion useful for beyond LEO is mainly that it has its own solar energy generator array, and that the heat shield is being designed to perform re-entry of a free-return trajectory from the Moon and a similar return flight coming from Mars. Then again the Dragon capsule is being designed with those same parameters as well.

Orion might be a piece of the puzzle in terms of getting to Mars or somewhere else in the Solar System, but by itself it won't get the job done.

Re:Lockheed? Orion? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232161)

Yes, Orion was, back in the Ares-1 days envisioned as going to the ISS. However, that was only meant as a stop-gap, a temporary solution until Commercial Crew came online. Back in those days, the plan was to fly the shuttles to 2015 as well.

Unfortunately, as built, Ares-1 could not even put Orion into orbit, and it's big brother, Ares-V, would have been prohibitively expensive to build and launch (and further, wasn't meant to take crew). One was overkill, and the other, anemic.

I too wonder about long duration flights on the Orion. I envision a secondary capsule, something along the lines of a transhab module from Bigelow, being added to the Orion for such trips.

Re:Lockheed? Orion? (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232461)

The commercial crew program wasn't even a part of the planning under Constellation. To suggest it was a "stop gap" is completely misrepresenting how it was sold to Congress. Commercial crew has been perceived as the "stop gap" until Constellation could be built, as a sort of "insurance program" if there might have been problems. In fact, in congressional testimony and other public discussion about the future of manned spaceflight, it was almost as if the commercial crew didn't even exist as a program with many members of congress trying to go out of their way to kill the program... just as is being done again by Frank Wolf. They simply can't conceive a situation where a private company on their own dime could develop a spacecraft.

I agree with you that as a practical matter there were numerous problems with the Orion. One of the largest problems with the vehicle is that it was explicitly engineered in such a way that it couldn't fly on either the Atlas V or Delta IV rockets, so it simply had to fly on something like the Ares I or Ares V. That wasn't an engineering decision but rather a political decision made explicitly so EELVs couldn't be considered in the process and that so much money would be dumped down the rathole of Orion development that it became "too big to fail". That is also why Orion development has continued, and why the SLS program was developed.... to build a rocket large enough to carry the Orion capsule since obvious none of the existing launchers could possibly be able to carry a spacecraft capable of putting people into space.

Then again it sort of stings when you point out that Atlas rockets have been used in the past to put people into space. John Glenn didn't mind the ride... 50 years ago. If it could be done then, why not today?

Re:Lockheed? Orion? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232971)

One can always chain capsules to make larger volumes. But I must admit that it'd probably make much more sense to attach the capsule to some sort of inflatable habitat, such as Bigelow's proposed BA 330 (which would have over 35 times the interior volume of an Orion capsule).

Orion is a terrible name. (3, Informative)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229257)

The original Orion concept -- and it get serious attention, even today -- was for an enormous, massive parabolic dome with a spacecraft on top of it. The spacecraft injects small nuclear bombs into the dome, and they explode at the focus. It's pretty much guaranteed that thing will MOVE! And yes, it is quite feasible and technically possible.

I don't think anybody is seriously considering building one of those right now, but the name stuck, and Orion has now been known to generations as "the nuclear bomb powered spacecraft".

Kind of a negative name to pick for your newfangled, modern, but chemical-powered machine.

Re:Orion is a terrible name. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40229741)

I agree, Orion related spacecraft names should be restricted to those that use very high temperature fission for propulsion.

Great name, unworthy new owner (1)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230121)

I don't know about the name being negative, I was quite disappointed to learn the "new Orion" was chemical powered. Hardly seems fair to give a glorified orbital space-taxi the name that once belonged to a design that would have put the the entire solar system at our feet. Sort of like resurrecting the retired jersey number of a football superstar only to give it to the water-boy.

Of course the "old Orion" could never have been used as a launch vehicle or even in near orbit without serious ecological and EMP-related side effects, not to mention treaty violations. But in deep space... well the flash wouldn't hurt anything there, and the whole place is already bathed in radiation far beyond what a little rapidly-dissipating fallout cloud could possibly contribute. I mean come on, before you were anywhere close to cruising speed you'd have multiple Earth-diameters between detonation points.

They could have at least saved the name until building a high-thrust ion drive vehicle with similar potential.

Re:Great name, unworthy new owner (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230383)

Yes, there are certainly very strict limitations on its normal use. But on the other hand, if a big sacrifice (of a rather large area) were really necessary, technically there is nothing preventing it from being single-stage-to-orbit... and far beyond.

Read "Lucifer's Hammer" by Niven and Pournelle. (And maybe you already have.) But the Orion concept has been around far longer than their book. They borrowed it, they didn't invent it.

Re:Great name, unworthy new owner (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230429)

"They could have at least saved the name until building a high-thrust ion drive vehicle with similar potential."

It's a different concept. An ion drive of any size could probably not power such a beast off the Earth, for the simple reason that ion drives rely on low mass at extremely high velocity to power their acceleration. But that velocity is necessarily limited by the currently known laws of physics. It probably would not be sufficient for escape velocity by itself.

But agreed. Ion thrusters are, today, designed for extremely efficient thrust / mass ratio, but only over time. If that same efficiency could be brought to bear in huge quantities all at once, you could have liftoff. Cheap.

But we're not quite there yet. It's kind of like saying, "We need the output of a standard 100W light bulb for 10 straight years, all in 0.0001 seconds."

We'll get there. Not just yet.

Re:Great name, unworthy new owner (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230445)

In contrast, Orion (the old-school Orion concept) gives you the output of a couple of billion of them, in a few microseconds. Nobody said it was efficient, but if nobody's using the key you can always use the sledgehammer.

Re:Great name, unworthy new owner (2)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230829)

An ion drive of any size could probably not power such a beast off the Earth

Very true, but the getting off Earth part isn't really that interesting, we can do it already and it's *really* not something you would have wanted to use a nuke-drive for anyway, unless you have to do so very quickly before the space-elephants drop a kinetic weapon on you (loved Lucifer's Hammer, a battered old copy still holds it's place in my personal library)

For getting around the solar system though - if a state of the art ion drive is 1000x too weak to do what you want, strap 1000 drives to your hull and add enough nuclear reactors to power them all. Not at all an elegant solution, but then I think that would only qualify it even more for the name. Granted the specific impulse is probably well below what could be managed with a true Orion design, but then massive overkill was the name of the game there, so we don't really need to get anywhere close to be useful - I mean come on sustained 1g acceleration will have you beyond the orbit of Pluto in ~12 days, but even 1/100g will get you there in 4 months. And a paltry 1/1000g is enough to get you from Earth to Mars in only 46 days at conjunction, or 100days at opposition - if the sun weren't in the way... and you didn't mind doing all your deceleration in the last few microseconds of the journey.

Hmm, of course all those are assuming flat-space accelerations, the whole climbing out of the sun's gravitational well thing would start factoring in at lower accelerations. Still I think the point is obvious - if you can sustain any sort of acceleration at all the solar system isn't actually that big a place, it's just that it's not possible to sustain thrust with a chemical drive.

An interesting talk on the Orion project from a fellow that managed to salvage a lot of research lost by NASA, if you don't mind seeing stuff still technically classified as Top Secret Orion [ted.com]

Re:Lockheed? Orion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40230967)

perhaps competition happened to Orion?
    Lockheed, welcome to good, quick, AND cheap. (and eventually better, faster, and cheaper).

SpaceX has demonstrated that with today's technology base,
      getting to orbit is not as hard as it was in the 60's.
It's still hard, but doesn't require the unlimited resources that it did in the space race.

They did this because their money was on the line and they had only a limited amount of it.
They litterally had to succeed or die as a company.
This, coupled with a belief in space, appears to be a severe motivation to make a good and simple working gadget.
NASA paying a company to develop a system appears counterproductive.
It rewards failure with more money whereas paying for rides rewards success.

So as a taxpayer, I should be happy that we are now only paying 2.5x the going rate for a ride to orbit?
    Hopefully, NASA had a better idea of how to structure the multiple source system.
      A development contract doesn't seem to make sense any more.
      Offering to pay for a limited number of successful rides to orbit might be better.

SpaceX (3, Insightful)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229133)

It's obvious that SpaceX will be selected.

How soon will Dragon be man-rated, and even more important, Falcon 9 and/or Falcon Heavy?

Just as obvious.... ATK (3, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229219)

The other "selectee" will be Alliant Techsystems with the Liberty rocket. Yes, I realize they didn't even make the cut from eight or so to four, but they are going to drive everybody else out simply through a massive lobbying effort that will change the outcomes of several districts.

Re:Just as obvious.... ATK (1)

mark99 (459508) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229253)

You think ATK can out manuver Boeing? Boeing is 10 times bigger.

Re:Just as obvious.... ATK (3, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229369)

ATK has their fairy god-senators looking out for them and a very effective public relations team which knows how to do some serious lobbying.

I'm sure the hope is more for ATK and Boeing to get this contract and cut SpaceX out completely. Then again ATK was betting that last week's Dragon flight would blow up on the launch pad or otherwise go dead. SpaceX is hard to ignore at the moment, but that is sort of the point why this whole down select is real stupid.

They will be a major contestant for the down select, regardless of what else you think about them.

Re:Just as obvious.... ATK (2)

mark99 (459508) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229505)

Hard to beleive SpaceX would not be one of them at this point. In fact I think it is fair to say that Musk would drive the man rating of Dragon forward regardless of whether or not they get it, and that could potentially make the CCP program completely idiotic - i.e. if they went for something else and it cratered budget-wise, as space programs traditionally do.
Still, I am not convinced that a good deal of SpaceX's success is somehow begininers luck that could fade as the org grows and they take on too many goals (Man-rating Dragon, Falcon Heavy, Grasshopper, Bigelow, 10 Falcon launches a year, etc). Can they possibly do *all* of that?

Re:Just as obvious.... ATK (1)

mark99 (459508) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229797)

Are you sure they have a chance? The article clearly states that they are to be selected form the *current 4*...

Re:Just as obvious.... ATK (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232583)

ATK is currently a part of the CCDev program.... they are just "unfunded". Tweaking the language of the appropriations bill to get them included in the selection criteria would be trivial and would only take a couple steak dinners at a posh DC restaurant with the right congressional staff members... and I don't think the guys at NASA who are running the program would complain.

ATK having a chance? I would put them as one of the top contender not necessarily for their technical expertise (although they have cleaned up their proposal considerably) but because of their political connections.

Indeed, if ATK looks like it is in danger of getting cut out of the loop, I would even go so far as to suggest that this whole down select process is going to be jettisoned as a bad political idea that it really is anyway.

Re:Just as obvious.... ATK (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229437)

They don't have to outlobby Boeing. All they gotta do is outlobby the rest.

Re:Just as obvious.... ATK (2)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229449)

Boeing is bigger and probably not too agile, but how can they lose after a 50 year head start? They were on the Gemeni program FFS. They make the Delta rocket. Isn't this just a matter of tweaking the terms of the their NASA contracts?

Re:SpaceX (4, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229233)

From what I understand, a few demos of their launch abort systems, and they should be shiney. The crewed Dragon and the cargo Dragon are the same pressure hull, and share the same liftoff and on orbit flight characteristics. So every cargo flight will be a test flight for the crewed vehicle.

Re:SpaceX (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#40231685)

While that's all more or less true, there's one detail missing: they're still building the launch abort system. I think Musk said they'll begin testing later this year, but he doesn't expect to be flying people for 2 or 3 years yet. Anyway, I agree that SpaceX will definitely continue the manned Dragon development, with or without help from NASA. Given the number of F9/FH flights they've already sold, they should have plenty of money to do the work.

Re:SpaceX (2)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229275)

In Capitalist West exSoviets dock with you :)
The US has found some new "Germans" to help them with the complex space thing.
US entrepreneurs are going to rebrand expensive US and Russian gov tech to new dot com heights.

Re:SpaceX (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229287)

There should be at least a couple, perhaps similar, but with different specialties. Maybe Dragon is better to LEO with heavy cargo or to HEO, and someone else's solution works better for smaller satellites, etc.

There need not be only one.

Re:SpaceX (2)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229415)

Boeing will get the nod of course. It's Boeing. It's been in the space funded corporate leech business for decades. I hate to say it, but I'm thinking ATX will get the nod as well, with SpaceX the third partially funded guy. ATX is another corporation much beloved by Congress for its bribe money^F^Fcampaign contributions.

Re:SpaceX (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229475)

Nah, the troughers have to kick SpaceX out because they're the only company who have proven that they can do the job and do it cheaper than the competition. That cannot be allowed.

Re:SpaceX (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232741)

Nah, the troughers have to kick SpaceX out because they're the only company who have proven that they can do the job and do it cheaper than the competition. That cannot be allowed.

The purpose of this down select is explicitly to hurt SpaceX and to drive them out of the market place through political maneuvering. If you claim it cannot be allowed, you really need to contact your member of congress and complain about this whole notion of a down select.

That Representative Frank Wolf, the guy behind this move to force the "down select", may have major egg on his face when these other commercial spaceflight developers have much cheaper vehicles than the things being built by Boeing and ATK is immaterial.

Re:SpaceX (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#40233411)

Thing is, SpaceX isn't selling vehicles, it's selling launch capability. Boeing and ATX are selling vehicles on a cost-plus basis. And you better believe cost overruns are automatically built into the contracts.

Camel in the tent (5, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229165)

SLS is the camel in the tent here. I think there is a subtle, partial neutering of this program and its competitors going on here. For example,

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, the Virginia Republican who heads the House appropriation subcommittee with NASA oversight, said today that the program would fully fund two companies â" and could partially fund a third.

Thatâ(TM)s down from as many as four companies, according to Wolf.

âoeThis downselect will reduce taxpayer exposure by concentrating funds on those participants who are most likely to be chosen to eventually provide service to ISS,â he said in a statement.

IMHO, that's doublespeak for "I was able to take out two of four potential competitors to my favorite space pork, the Space Launch System [wikipedia.org] ."

The deal also would lay the groundwork for NASA to impose stiffer regulations on the companies competing to develop the rockets and capsules â" a priority for Wolf â" while giving NASA more leeway to nix contracts if it thinks aspiring companies are overselling their capability and financial health.

In other words, a series of irrelevant obstacles can be thrown in the way to hinder these companies even more. The "stiffer regulations" simply isn't needed. NASA already is almost pathologically paranoid about what gets near the ISS. But it's a great tool for adding cost to these activities. We'll see how that gets abused in the future.

Similarly, more leeway to nix contracts means greater uncertainty (and resulting weaker financial health) for the contractors. NASA already is a problem child for bad contracts due to its considerable ability to renegotiate contracts, Darth Vader style [adultswim.com] . Being allowed even more excuses to renege on contracts will cause even more problems for these contractors.

This isn't going to kill the COTS program, but we should remember that some people are trying to. I think in part this is to remove competition for the SLS and in part just a ploy to eventually suborn COTS funding for the SLS.

Re:Camel in the tent (5, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229297)

NASA already is almost pathologically paranoid about what gets near the ISS.

If you 'owned' an irreplaceable multi billion dollar asset - and would get scorched by your bosses and atomized by the public if it got so much as scratched... you'd be pathologically paranoid too. And that's on top of the issue of astronaut safety.

Re:Camel in the tent (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229471)

But SpaceX already docked with the ISS, last week.

I'm sure you know that. But how can we talk about Nasa not allowing things to get close to the ISS in light of it?

Re:Camel in the tent (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229525)

The requirements haven't changed just because SpaceX docked to it.

Re:Camel in the tent (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229585)

If you 'owned' an irreplaceable multi billion dollar asset - and would get scorched by your bosses and atomized by the public if it got so much as scratched... you'd be pathologically paranoid too.

I'm not sure why I got two replies on this particular statement. You do agree after all. Maybe it did need some nuanced explanation.

Re:Camel in the tent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40231311)

He never said NASA being patholigically paranoid about what gets close to the ISS was a bad thing.

Re:Camel in the tent (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40229303)

No, dumbass. The downselect is a fundamental part of how we (being the government) competitively select the prime for large projects. Would you rather have any larger defense corporation have no competition this early?

Re:Camel in the tent (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229553)

The downselect is a fundamental part of how we (being the government) competitively select the prime for large projects.

Why "downselect", that is, rule out viable competition at this time? They're getting good outcome for the money. I think my explanation fits the bill. So that the primes for the eventual SLS contracts don't have real competition from the COTS competitors.

Would you rather have any larger defense corporation have no competition this early?

So the choice is "downselect" or "no competition". Do you realize how dumb that false dilemma is? Congress could have also fully funded COTS and its selection of four competitors as NASA requested. But instead they downselected. Again, I have an explanation for that which doesn't require competition among certain larger defense corporations.

Re:Camel in the tent (4, Interesting)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229349)

"NASA already is almost pathologically paranoid about what gets near the ISS."

As much as I agree with much of what you say, it is perfectly understandable that NASA is extremely cautious about the ISS. It's their ONLY manned program right now, and it's not even really "theirs"!

Of course, as we well know, bureaucratic stagnation and bungling are behind that very situation, and NASA has been ordered by 2 different Presidents to clean up that act... which they still haven't done.

What the private space program does NOT need is more regulation or interference from NASA. We KNOW this. Look what SpaceX and Virgin and others have accomplished without it.

Re:Camel in the tent (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229693)

NASA already is almost pathologically paranoid about what gets near the ISS.
They have that Austrian feeling as a foreign architect takes way too many pics. Somewhere in the heavens, they are building.

on time and on budget (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40229171)

"on time and on budget"

I know there's an "oh, you" meme somewhere in that summary.

I think we all know it will take twice as long and cost 5 times as much as originally contracted.

Happy D-DAY Anniversary Holland (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40229347)

Light up a big doobie and think back of all the wonderful doobies you've had, thanks to the Americans who saved your ass all those years ago.

In other words ... (5, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229397)

... the Democratic administration wants to encourage free market competition, and the Republicans in Congress want to limit it. This should not be a shock to anyone who pays attention to reality rather than party rhetoric.

Terms and conditions (0)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229529)

It appears that the old model was for NASA to pay contractors to develop national assets, whereas the new model is for NASA to pay contractors to develop contractor-owned assets?

.

Also, I think we are bound for a cold-water-in-the-face moment of realization that the privatization of space launch means it is now divorced from nationalism/patriotism for the first time. It is no longer "we" or "us" or "our" space program. A private company can re-incorporate elsewhere to save on taxes or avoid regulations in a heartbeat. They can also provide services to the highest bidder (or more to the point, to all bidders) regardless of the payload. I am still in favor of privatization because it seems the US manned space program has finally collapsed under its own bureaucratic weight. Nevertheless people realize this is not just going to be a cost-saver.

Re:Terms and conditions (1)

mark99 (459508) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229809)

I think NASA showed that they hadn't a clue what they should do with their terribly expensively developed "National Assets". They are all now rusting hulks. And they are developing another one with no clue as to what it is for (jobs for retiring engineers maybe).
At least the commercial guys are likely to rack their brains out as to how they can get more money out of "their" assets.
And face it - if a war broke out and SpaceX had useful assets, who do you think would control them overnight?

Re:Terms and conditions (1)

gpmanrpi (548447) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230959)

I had the same question. So instead of funding one project, they are now funding 2.5 projects? How is this any different than pet projects that distributed out NASA in the first place. I am amazed at how quickly the private sector could get these from concept, to testing/deployment. However, it is clear that the private sector is standing on the shoulders of giants. The fact that they could do this so quickly was because the information was publicly owned or at least easily available. I am curious as to if there will be an initial jump in creativity only to be hidden behind trade secret and patent(IP) wall. Ultimately, the cost really is the same as you say. It is the whole shell game. These are private companies ROI is not magical. At a certain point it will increase because it has to. Investors want dividends; they are not in it because space travel is cool. Eventually, you have to invent ways of generating revenue, and that means raising prices at a rate that is higher than inflation. There is no actual incentive to be under budget, and paying some lobbyists will insure that these companies will be paid. Perhaps I am being cynical, but privatization, in my experience, has generally not worked out in the long term if the goal is cost savings. In contract law, the concept of puffery always accompanies the sales pitch. The conversation that leads to the bargain that is not considered part of the contract, but may have affected the inducement. So you sell the public on the idea that the private sector is magically more efficient than a highly regulated government, but meanwhile in the terms of the contract you make sure that the government is the one holding the bag if assumptions were not correct, or there are "unexpected" over-runs. So the puffery is the "cost-savings," just like "this used car runs like a dream", but is sold "AS-IS" disclaiming all express or implied warranties.

Taxpayer subsidises 'private' industry yet again. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40229739)

But the profits will all go private - nice deal for someone

Re:Taxpayer subsidises 'private' industry yet agai (4, Insightful)

toruonu (1696670) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229957)

I'd like to point out that Space X did first prove they're capable of real life feats with Musk's own money. Yes the latest developments and the docking with ISS has been co-funded (or mostly funded) by NASA and they'll pay them more for additional launches, but they're getting a real deal out of it as SpaceX is doing it way cheaper than any alternative and they actually deliver already today, not far fetched promises.

Handout to the rich (-1)

Stiletto (12066) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229803)

So the public funds it and takes all the risk, and presumably, all the upside and profits go to private individuals/investors. Blatant transfer of public wealth into private hands. We're not even trying to hide it anymore.

Re:Handout to the rich (4, Insightful)

toruonu (1696670) | more than 2 years ago | (#40229997)

You forget the alternative. If the public funds the development of new rocket systems by NASA and keeps using them at a cost of 5x that of the private company, then after N launches the total cost for the public is higher than had they developed it in cooperation with a private enterprise that then operates the technology under contracts at a much lower cost. As an example, Falcon 9 of Space X has lift capacity of 10 tons for a cost of $56M. The Delta-IV rocket had 22 tons and $300M so the cost per kg is 3x higher. The Ariane 5 rocket by ESA has 21 ton lift to LEO and cost of $200M. The Atlas V (earlier one) had lift on 9t at a cost of $125M.

Now if Space X can pull off Falcon Heavy (the first launch is planned already in 2013) then the planned cost of 53t to LEO is $80-125M. That gives it a per kg cost of 5.8x less than Delta-IV, 4x less than Ariane 5 etc. And that's assuming the high end of the price range. It's also a rocket that can deliver cargo to trans-lunar-orbit or even to Mars (14t to Mars, 16t to trans lunar). Why the hell would we need an SLS with 50-130t capacity with an outrageous price tag when we can just launch two Falcon 9 heavy's for the same capacity and probably less than the equivalent launch cost and if need be assemble the final inter-plantery spacecraft in orbit...

Re:Handout to the rich (2)

toruonu (1696670) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230017)

Oh forgot to add. Space X took the risk on themselves when the did the Falcon 1 and it failed 3x in row. They bet the company on the 4th launch and it worked and have been delivering cargo to LEO and now to ISS since. The Falcon 9 works (it has had 3/3 successes) and Falcon Heavy is basically re-using a lot of the Falcon 9 material so it's likely they'll make it work too. The maiden flight of SLS is planned in 2017 while I'd assume the Falcon Heavy or it's successor might easily be providing the service in 2017 for a lot cheaper (they'll probably have ironed out the reusability part of the first stages by then).

Re:Handout to the rich (-1)

Stiletto (12066) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230061)

I won't dispute your facts, but I don't think we're comparing apples to apples. What other differences are there between the platforms that would account for the different cost per kg? Safety? Redundancy? It has to be more than simple "government waste". Yes, some of the difference might be waste, but that's an argument for reducing waste, not for punting and instead simply handing public money over to private hands.

Re:Handout to the rich (2)

toruonu (1696670) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230569)

I think a lot of this is indeed coming from the fact that SpaceX is operating like a startup. They also have claimed a lot of the cost reduction comes from the fact that they manufacture every single component themselves in their own factory where the raw materials come in from one door and spaceships/rockets come out the other. They also re-use a lot of the tooling etc because of the design (Falcon 9 is basically 9x Falcon 1 and Falcon Heavy is basically 3x Falcon 9 with inter-exchange of fuel). Due to their relative size as a company their corporate overhead has to be an order of magnitude smaller than say Boeing or Lockheed-Martin. And their main interest is first off to get to be a major player in the space industry and to compete they have to be unique in some way and their way is the cost. I'm guessing their cross margin per launch is quite small while I'd not be surprised if others have a 100% or more cross margin. Musk's vision is to help make humans a space faring civilization with cost to orbit heavily reduced and allowing exploration of the solar system including colonization. As I've understood his hope is to retire on Mars so he's pushing with the company towards making that a reality within his lifetime (assuming he retires at 60/65 he's got 20/25 years left, it's not fully utopic).

And having worked for a private company and government contract and a large EU project I can tell you that the costs shown in a large EU project per person are far higher than you'd normally associate with the tasks done just because you can. And considering that there aren't too many players around I'd not be surprised if they've kept the launch device costs somewhat bloated because they can and it's being disrupter right now by an independent player that has different motives :)

Re:Handout to the rich (2)

toruonu (1696670) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230607)

Damn hit submit and then remembered your other parts of the question. With regard to safety and redundancy it's actually in favor of SpaceX. As an example from Falcon Heavy wiki: "The structural safety margins are 40% above flight loads, higher than the 25% margins of other rockets.[10]". They've designed the whole things from ground up for manned flight with extended safety margins so this is not the reason for cheapness...

And with regard to Musk and his motives for the company. Look at the recent 60 minutes interview with him [youtube.com] . When Neil Armstrong etc claim that one shouldn't push for commercialization and NASA should do everything themselves (sounds like SLS lobbying to get the old guys out and get support without due consideration what they're doing) Elon's basically in tears. You can see that those guys were/are his heroes and motivation to do the same kind of stuff and it really hurt him. So he's not a fat CEO waiting for a fat paycheck, but this IS his vision and hope and that defines his priorities.

Re:Handout to the rich (1)

JWW (79176) | more than 2 years ago | (#40232177)

Yep. Elon's response to the criticism of his heroes shows one thing:

This guy has a PASSION for achieving his goals and driving his company forward.

It is something that IMHO NASA needs to grab on to and embrace.

SpaceX is in this to succeed and they appear to be incredibly committed to their goals.

Its nice to see people with that kind of drive back in the space industry again.

Re:Handout to the rich (2)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230817)

SpaceX is saving money by NOT cutting corners in the design phase. The biggest driver of operational cost in these projects is when something goes wrong in the design process and complicated procedures are added to avoid a total redesign. By getting it right the first time, or having the guts to step back and fix what's wrong instead of slapping on a bandaid, their system will be both cheaper amd more reliable in the long run.

Also, you underestimate how much overhead there is in a 3-tier contracting scheme. 3x cost would be just about believable.

history repeating (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40230075)

Losers may come out on top after all. Those who drop out of government contracts will offer their services internationally, creating global manned space operations market. It happened in past with revolutionary designs of small arms, as well as with electronic computers. There are probably more examples which I don't remember at the moment. Other, smaller countries who can't afford fully fledged space program funding, and wealthy individuals from around the world will find their commercial offerings tempting and useful for their own plans. We might get proliferation of corporate owned SSs in LEO, and in the long run proliferation of space industries in other technologically advanced countries as well.

Another handout (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40230537)

NASA and congress? I believe many of you forgot to understand what you read. They reached a deal to give away our money to a "company". Private development? for the good of mankind, never heard of patients, Never heard of secret proesses that are part of the "secret sauce?", that makes your product better.
This actually legitimizes taking space out of education.Giving the able student one less dream, or asperation for the future. Government science was hard to get into, but the processes were open for transfer to all other, not just one, company.

Re:Another handout (1)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230629)

I misread the topic as 'Nasa, Congress Reach Around'

Re:Another handout (1)

Loughla (2531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#40230981)

This actually legitimizes taking space out of education.Giving the able student one less dream, or asperation for the future. Government science was hard to get into, but the processes were open for transfer to all other, not just one, company.

NOPE! It just takes the astronaut dream from science majors and gives it to the business majors. I can see it now: Come to THE University of Chicago, where ASTRONAUTS are made!

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