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Orbital Becomes Second Private Firm To Send Cargo Craft To ISS

samzenpus posted about 9 months ago | from the put-that-anywhere dept.

ISS 69

An anonymous reader writes "Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned Cygnus spacecraft delivered 3,000 pounds of equipment, fresh fruit, and Christmas presents from the families of all six ISS spacemen today. 'From the men and women involved in the design, integration and test, to those who launched the Antares (rocket) and operated the Cygnus, our whole team has performed at a very high level for our NASA customer, and I am very proud of their extraordinary efforts,' said David W. Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Orbital, in a written statement from the company."

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A field of Two (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 9 months ago | (#45934373)

I think Orbital Sciences and SpaceX are at present the only real contenders for private commercial launch. Jeff Bezos' Blue Cactus or whatever is really just a "vanity project" for the bizillionaire.

Re:A field of Two (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45934443)

It's not exactly a field where there is going to be a diversity of competition, not for the immediate future anyway.

I _sure_ hope there *WILL* be competition ! (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 9 months ago | (#45937351)

It's not exactly a field where there is going to be a diversity of competition, not for the immediate future anyway

I sincerely hope that there will be * MORE * competitors.

Look at the cost ...

Orbital has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to make eight flights to the space station under the space agency's commercial supply program

For each of the delivery NASA is shelling out more than $237.5 million.

Now, compare this with the cost for India to send a probe to Mars http://science.slashdot.org/story/13/12/01/040246/indian-mars-probe-successfully-enters-sun-centric-orbit [slashdot.org]

The Indian space project cost India a total of $81 million .

While there are some saying that the Indian space program to Mars only cost $74 million, even with the higher price tag of $81 million it is still ONE THIRD of the price of Nasa is paying Orbital !!

Re:I _sure_ hope there *WILL* be competition ! (2)

aiadot (3055455) | about 9 months ago | (#45937479)

Not disagreeing with your point about the need to reduce costs, but I'm not sure if India is a good reference in prices. What are they paying to their engineers and technicians? Is their hardware on par of American, Russian and European in terms of safety, reliability or capabilities? Is that number even correct and not made up? As a guy with no knowledge in the matter it's really hard to judge whether Obital/SpaceX costs are overpriced or not without knowing the reason those costs exist in first place and how India is doing their magic.

Re:I _sure_ hope there *WILL* be competition ! (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 9 months ago | (#45937529)

I am not from India, so I have no way to know how much in term of safety the Indian space missions put in nor the accounting practice in India.

But I can tell you this ...

1. The group of Indian engineers and technicians must be WORLD CLASS to successfully send out a space probe on its way to Mars.

World class professionals don't come cheap, and world class professionals are not dumb either.

For sure, they must be paid handsomely even when they work INSIDE INDIA - You think they are that stupid that they are willing to be paid "peanuts" inside India while they can rake in much more moolah if they work in either USA or Europe ?

2. The space craft Orbitals sent up is a "transportation module" that carried some 3,000 pounds of stuffs. In other words, that space craft is a disposable cargo container that is NOT designed for human cargo, and the "safety issue" you mentioned won't be a priority either.

3, Accounting

I do not think the accounting practice in India is _that_ different from the accounting practice in other countries.

Or, to put it in another way --- Why should India lie about the cost for their space program ?

I may be wrong in this, but unless someone can provide me the benefit India may reap if it lies about the cost of their space program, I trust the figure as was reported.

Re:I _sure_ hope there *WILL* be competition ! (2)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 9 months ago | (#45938543)

Sending a probe to Mars and sending 3,000 lbs to the ISS are two totally different things. First, if your programming is off just slightly, you miss Mars, or as we have seen previously, you crash into the planet and loose your probe. Hit the ISS with a capsule carrying that extra weight and you loose just more than the capsule.

But the real difference between the Orbital price and India is that India is reporting its actual cost. What Orbital charges NASA includes a hefty profit margin. The actual costs are significantly lower.

Re:I _sure_ hope there *WILL* be competition ! (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about 9 months ago | (#45939649)

Sending a probe to Mars and sending 3,000 lbs to the ISS are two totally different things. First, if your programming is off just slightly, you miss Mars, or as we have seen previously, you crash into the planet and loose your probe. Hit the ISS with a capsule carrying that extra weight and you loose just more than the capsule.

But the real difference between the Orbital price and India is that India is reporting its actual cost. What Orbital charges NASA includes a hefty profit margin. The actual costs are significantly lower.

loose your probe

I am pretty sure you can be arrested for that.

Re:I _sure_ hope there *WILL* be competition ! (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 9 months ago | (#45939803)

:)

Re:I _sure_ hope there *WILL* be competition ! (1)

AJH16 (940784) | about 9 months ago | (#45939897)

Hmm, lets see, and what was the payload weight of the Mars mission? Oh wait, that would be 33 pounds, not 3000. The Cygnus launch could have carried the entire fueled rocket for the Indian mars mission in to orbit. Sure, it takes more energy to escape Earth's gravity entirely, but you are still comparing apples to oranges when you look at the fact that the entire weight, let alone the fuel needs of the Indian mission were lower than the payload weight of the Cygnus mission. Taken in perspective, Orbital did a MUCH more cost effective job than India.

Re:I _sure_ hope there *WILL* be competition ! (1)

AJH16 (940784) | about 9 months ago | (#45939939)

Err, strike that, I think I misread the stat sheet. Never mind.

Re:I _sure_ hope there *WILL* be competition ! (1)

M1FCJ (586251) | about 9 months ago | (#45943135)

Not only that, SpaceX carries more while charging NASA for less, and Orbital still gets a contract. Why? Because they have always been a NASA contractor.

Pork barrels all the way down, all the way...

Re:A field of Two (3, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | about 9 months ago | (#45934587)

EADS-Astrium/AirBus (they are going through a reorganization at the moment) is arguably a major contender for private commercial spaceflight launch as well. RKK Energia (the company who makes the Soyuz rockets) is also a private company who is competitive with the launch costs of both SpaceX and Orbital. You can debate if they really are a private companies or not (they do have shareholders and private investors... but also governments as investors as well).

Richard Branson has said he has his sights upon orbital spaceflight with Virgin Galactic, and there is also Stratolaunch, but those are the only other companies I can see being real competition. I had high hopes for ARCA [arcaspace.com] , the Romanian space group that is doing some interesting things, but their projects seem to take even longer to happen than I thought. I'm sort of pleasantly surprised they are still doing stuff. Another group to watch is Copenhagen Suborbitals [copenhagen...bitals.com] , who is building flying hardware (they have sent aloft more than a couple missions) and have technology that could at least theoretically make the trip into orbit over time.

Re:A field of Two (2)

surfdaddy (930829) | about 9 months ago | (#45934971)

Most people don't realize that getting to orbit takes almost an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE more energy than getting to space (suborbitally). Given that Branson has taken 10 years to get (almost) to commercial suborbital flight, I wouldn't hold my breath for Virgin Galactic anytime soon. I suspect that running commercial suborbital operations will be more complex and difficult than he suspects, but I'm still glad he's doing it.

Re:A field of Two (2)

lgw (121541) | about 9 months ago | (#45935073)

Branson is more focused on creating a new space-related business than on creative new engineering to service existing business. I'm not sure whether such a market exists in the first place, but he's more about exploring new markets than new planets. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't think VGal will ever be about putting payloads in orbit.

Re:A field of Two (0)

Teancum (67324) | about 9 months ago | (#45935151)

You had better tell that to Richard Branson that his dream is not going to be realized. For myself, I put Branson behind Jeff Bezos in terms of who is going to make the vehicles capable of going to orbit first, and I have my doubts about either one. Yes, I realize that orbital velocities are much less than suborbital hops, but I am not talking about suborbital spacecraft in this case.

I will also tip my hat to Virgin Galactic so far as trying to get airline-like operations out of sub-orbital spacecraft. If he can get it to work out, it will be substantially cheaper mode of transportation to that flight regime than anything else even considered.... cheaper even than the approach that SpaceX is going after. The approach of Virgin Galactic is also a much harder system. Stratolaunch is trying to make what will be the next generation of the White Knight, where the original goal was to put a Falcon 9 hanging under the air carrier as a mobile launch platform.

The White Knight II is planned to be used as a launch platform for small sat payloads below $500/kg to LEO. They plan to develop the rocket once SpaceshipTwo finally gets built, but I have no doubt those engineers are capable of getting it done. The ten year delay in getting commercial suborbital operations going has mainly been with the propulsion system, where Virgin Galactic (and Scaled Composites before them) tried to get their hybrid rocket motors operational. This is still the weak part of the entire SpaceshipTwo design and where most of the time is being spent.

The only real advantage I see from an air launch system is that it gets you out of the weather (a real problem for Florida launches). The comparatively tiny altitude gain and velocity from the aircraft is trivial. Still, a 100% reusable (except for fuel) system is something worth looking at, and is the main feature to that approach. Exploding rockets are also not so big of a deal when they blow up at 40k feet and can be done over oceans or otherwise far from population centers too. The hybrid motor system, assuming they can get the chemistry to work properly, is also something very simple and easy to use in operation where more time spent in design will make for cheaper operations (as opposed to horrible decisions in the Space Shuttle design which pushed development costs into operations on a routine basis).

Re:A field of Two (2, Informative)

beltsbear (2489652) | about 9 months ago | (#45935841)

Once you get something to 60,000 ft you can design the nozzle to be 20% more efficient for that altitude and higher vs one that was efficient at lower altitudes. This gives you a pretty big advantage other then the height and that rocket can take you all the way to space. Now you are only throwing out one stage and have a rocket that can carry a higher mass vs it's size to orbit.

Re:A field of Two (1)

kyrsjo (2420192) | about 9 months ago | (#45938181)

This.

Also, by launching from an arial platform, you won't have to boost so much "down" to fight gravity drag, but can bost more "sideways" which is more efficient. If you could boost only tangentially to the earth, you'll avoid having to carry fuel for 1g of acceleration upwards.

Also, the air resistance is probably a bit lower at altitude as well.

Re:A field of Two (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | about 9 months ago | (#45939785)

EADS/Arianespace is in a spot of trouble as their launch cost is much higher than that of SpaceX. The Ariane 6 is designed to close the gap a bit, but Arianespace has always struggled to be profitable even though they're bankrolled by ESA. Basically they're used to the old world where cost was no object and will have to adapt to the way SpaceX et al do things.

Re:A field of Two (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 9 months ago | (#45934613)

Other space entrepreneurs are coming out of the woodwork here [cnn.com]

Re:A field of Two (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 9 months ago | (#45934973)

Mars-One does not and never will build a launch vehicle capable of going into orbit. They may be entrepreneurs in space, but that is not what the GP was talking about. If you were suggesting Boeing or Lockheed-Martin was capable of competing.... that at least would be talking about companies who build rockets.

Re:A field of Two (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 9 months ago | (#45935227)

If you were suggesting Boeing or Lockheed-Martin was capable of competing.... that at least would be talking about companies who build rockets.

I don't know how you people are so accurately able to read the minds of people like me, but I wish you'd quit because now everyone already knows the punchline to my jokes.

Re:A field of Two (1)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 9 months ago | (#45936563)

self-woosh. whaa???

Re:A field of Two (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45934625)

Except for the fact that Lockheed and Boeing have been NASA's contractors for decades.

This whole "look how gr8 commercial spaceflight can do so much better than government!" stuff is nonsense propaganda. Aerospace, except in perhaps the first 5 years of flight, has always been about the government making the long-term investments and R&D, and private companies delivering final products.

But the New Religion can't stand the idea that everything isn't completely under the guidance of the Almighty Invisible Hand, so it paints this new picture of independent private enterprises as if they grew from nothing. It's pathetic. I could cope with communistic space; I could cope with capitalistic space; I might even cope with corporatist space if people were honest about it; but what we have now is just smoke and mirrors.

Re:A field of Two (3, Informative)

0123456 (636235) | about 9 months ago | (#45934645)

This whole "look how gr8 commercial spaceflight can do so much better than government!" stuff is nonsense propaganda.

Again, SpaceX built a new rocket engine and two new rockets and launched them into space for less than NASA spent to put a dummy upper stage on top of a shuttle SRB and launch it into the Atlantic Ocean.

Aerospace, except in perhaps the first 5 years of flight, has always been about the government making the long-term investments and R&D, and private companies delivering final products.

So, you're claiming that government developed and funded the 747 and 787?

Re:A field of Two (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45934775)

Nice pedantry on the aerospace. :P

Re:A field of Two (1)

guanxi (216397) | about 9 months ago | (#45935979)

So, you're claiming that government developed and funded the 747 and 787?

The government invested and invests very heavily in the technology, including R&D, both through the military and NASA (and maybe via other agencies I'm not thinking of). For example, here is NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate [nasa.gov] .

Boeing is a leading beneficiary of these funds. Also, have Boeing and their competitors received tax breaks and other aid?

Re:A field of Two (1)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 9 months ago | (#45936583)

perhaps he meant that much of today's aero technology and brainpower was developed through military and space programs. The 747 wasn't cut from whole cloth, rather the building block and people who designed it came from the military work. There's nothing wrong with this I think. It's also right to realize that a private company can design and build a new project like a rocket cheaper than a mil bureaucracy.

the best part about bureaucracy is if you drop that shit in WWF not only do you get mad points but uses a lot of excess values. inb4 7 letter limit - you'd have to play bureau first, then follow up with the -cracy add on later. it's like a hells yeah followed by a bitch please.

Re:A field of Two (2)

Sockatume (732728) | about 9 months ago | (#45937511)

You're arguing that commercial spaceflight stands on the shoulders of necessarily-government-funded, unprofitable research; the parent post seems to be arguing that going forward, it is more efficient to let private enterprise do the work. You both seem to be correct from where I'm standing. If it's cheaper to let private businesses run the launches for publicly-funded space operations, then I'm all for it.

Re:A field of Two (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 9 months ago | (#45938407)

Boeing directly receives as a benefactor a reduction in taxation by the state of Washington, and also the wings for its 787 are produced at well below cost due to funds its Japanese contractors received to design and build them.

Re:A field of Two (1)

peppepz (1311345) | about 9 months ago | (#45937197)

Again, SpaceX built a new rocket engine and two new rockets and launched them into space for less than NASA spent to put a dummy upper stage on top of a shuttle SRB and launch it into the Atlantic Ocean.

I think that it's not fair if you don't say that SpaceX did what they did by using NASA's research (which has huge costs that get written under NASA's budget but not SpaceX's) and with NASA's money (that is, it's the government and only the government that enabled them to reach their achievements).

Re: A field of Two (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45940267)

NASA has those same resources but look at every projects that tried to create a new vehicle to replace the shuttle. Knowing vs being able to actually utilize are different things. Even if their cost is offesetted by previous expertise, so are their competitors.

Re:A field of Two (1)

bleckywelcky (518520) | about 9 months ago | (#45947165)

This whole "look how gr8 commercial spaceflight can do so much better than government!" stuff is nonsense propaganda.

Again, SpaceX built a new rocket engine and two new rockets and launched them into space for less than NASA spent to put a dummy upper stage on top of a shuttle SRB and launch it into the Atlantic Ocean.

Aerospace, except in perhaps the first 5 years of flight, has always been about the government making the long-term investments and R&D, and private companies delivering final products.

So, you're claiming that government developed and funded the 747 and 787?

To be fair, Ares I was intended to put 56,000 lb into LEO. While Falcon 9 only puts 23,000 to 29,000 lb into LEO. And Antares only puts 11,000 lb into LEO. And we all know that space does not scale linearly.

However, I applaud both their efforts. And I'm not sure you can ever consider government contracting in space as "private" in the sense that a private company might put out a RFP for silicon chip fab, and get back 10 aggressively competitive bids from other private companies. But, it's a step in the right direction. NASA can set quality and efficiency guidelines each year for ISS resupply. And then award the next year's (or batch's, etc) set of resupplies to whoever meets the guidelines best.

Re:A field of Two (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 9 months ago | (#45934691)

I don't think you understand the significance of private commercial space launches.

It has little to do with an invisible hand and more to do with less restrictions on who can get what up there. Right now, it is all corporatist communistic capitalistic space anyways. Yes, all three at once because those who actually make it into space are either government or doing so at the behest of the government using technology developed by the government but refined for their particular usages, with the intent of eventually being available to anyone who isn't a government also. The end result is that you don't have to compete with some senators pork project to get something into space. You don't have to comply with only what the government wants in order to get something into space. And if all works out well, you will be able to visit space as a tourist if not just briefly.

You really do not want the government being the only entity controlling this. Right now, we already have commercial launches using government rockets but what if you wanted to put your own Hubble telescope into space or service a satellite you purchased or do anything the government entity isn't wanting to do. Such missions would be at the mercy of the government until private missions can be funded and committed solely at the will of private parties. Such future is possible with private launches.

Re:A field of Two (5, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | about 9 months ago | (#45935221)

Except for the fact that Lockheed and Boeing have been NASA's contractors for decades.

The difference is how these contracts are funded. The COTS contracts for SpaceX and Orbital have two huge things going for them:

1) These are not "cost-plus" contracts, but rather fixed price contracts where any cost savings during operations is kept entirely by the launch provider. If either company can save even a few hundred dollars by doing something cheaper or avoiding a purchase of the proverbial $10k wrench & hammer, those companies see that savings directly. Neither Lockheed-Martin nor Boeing care about stuff like that as they simply pass those "costs" in the "cost-plus" contract on to taxpayers. There are no cost overruns in a fixed price contract too, so if either Orbital or SpaceX have some unexpected costs showing up.... they need to eat those costs.

2) Both SpaceX and Orbital are free to use these launch vehicles for any other purpose as everything they've made belongs to them and not NASA or the federal government.

I do think there is a time and place for cost-plus contracts where there is a genuine national priority that something absolutely must be made. None the less, this really is a different thing and in a great many ways these other companies have been extensions of the government in how they made their vehicles.

Re:A field of Two (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45935885)

If either company can save even a few hundred dollars by doing something cheaper or avoiding a purchase of the proverbial $10k wrench & hammer, those companies see that savings directly.

Like maybe deciding to go with the cheaper o-rings with the narrower operating temperatures; just how cold could a Florida launch be anyway?

Re:A field of Two (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 9 months ago | (#45936041)

The difference is that they wear the cost of fixing it. Possibly losing the contract entirely.

They don't get more money to fix it, and a continued guaranteed cost-plus supply contract for another 20-plus years.

Re:A field of Two (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45936091)

Like maybe deciding to go with the cheaper o-rings with the narrower operating temperatures; just how cold could a Florida launch be anyway?

Like maybe, simply using RP1 engines for the first stage instead of insanely dangerous solid fuel boosters strapped to ridiculously overcomplicated and underpowered LH mains.

Re:A field of Two (3, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | about 9 months ago | (#45936189)

Like maybe deciding to go with the cheaper o-rings with the narrower operating temperatures; just how cold could a Florida launch be anyway?

Engineers from Thiokol wanted to use the more expensive o-rings in that case.... and NASA overruled demanding the cheaper ones. Furthermore, Thiokol also wanted to scrub the launch on the day that Challenger flew.... and NASA administrators thought it was politically a bad idea and flew anyway.

This whole line of thought is bullshit as it presumes that a commercial company would risk lives to save $10, as if they want to pay higher per launch premiums to their insurance providers not to mention want the blood of people on their hands. Look at the problems RKK Energia is facing right now with their vehicles because there have been failures last year and tell me launching companies don't worry about that stuff.

Re:A field of Two (1)

bleckywelcky (518520) | about 9 months ago | (#45947243)

Except for the fact that Lockheed and Boeing have been NASA's contractors for decades.

The difference is how these contracts are funded. The COTS contracts for SpaceX and Orbital have two huge things going for them:

1) These are not "cost-plus" contracts, but rather fixed price contracts where any cost savings during operations is kept entirely by the launch provider. If either company can save even a few hundred dollars by doing something cheaper or avoiding a purchase of the proverbial $10k wrench & hammer, those companies see that savings directly. Neither Lockheed-Martin nor Boeing care about stuff like that as they simply pass those "costs" in the "cost-plus" contract on to taxpayers. There are no cost overruns in a fixed price contract too, so if either Orbital or SpaceX have some unexpected costs showing up.... they need to eat those costs.

2) Both SpaceX and Orbital are free to use these launch vehicles for any other purpose as everything they've made belongs to them and not NASA or the federal government.

I do think there is a time and place for cost-plus contracts where there is a genuine national priority that something absolutely must be made. None the less, this really is a different thing and in a great many ways these other companies have been extensions of the government in how they made their vehicles.

Not cost plus only works if the task is well known and well defined. Because a task with an unknown or wandering scope (i.e. a science experiment) will eventually just stop once the money runs out, if it is not cost plus. Because individual companies are not bottom-less supplies of money either. So they'll mess up once, eat the cost. Mess up again, eat the cost. Repeat until the bank account says $0, and the rocket is half-complete. Then the company will simply go bankrupt. You can't go after a company with no money, there's nothing to go after. The government can take them to court and say "the contract says deliver a rocket, and you delivered 1/2 a rocket" all they want. But they won't get anything out of it ... because nothing exists anyways.

At this point, ISS resupply appears to be well known and well defined. However, if NASA, NFS, or the DOE said they wanted a new fusion power plant, and the RFP said fixed-fee (not cost plus), I doubt they would get any bidders. Or the bids would include absurdly high prices to allow for massive budget margins.

Re:A field of Two (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 9 months ago | (#45950997)

I agree with you on this sentiment. The Manhattan Project and arguably the Apollo missions were situations where the contractors involved simply didn't even know what was needed in order to get those respective projects completed. But let's be serious on this point: Do we really not understand the scope and task involved needed to get a spacecraft launched into orbit? Why is a cost-plus contract still being used in rocket development for orbital spacecraft like the SLS? Is the scope of knowledge needed to build telescopes really not well defined and understood for something like the James Webb Telescope?

As for your fusion plant example, I do know of some private companies who are doing fusion research on a for profit basis, but in those cases it is a speculative investment that people making such an investment know it very likely won't work out but are hoping it does. Bankruptcy is the way to clear out those approaches which fail to deliver and ensures that those bureaucracies disappear when that happens. There is no similar mechanism if a government bureaucracy fails as the solution is to simply pour more money into that organization hoping that in spite of repeatedly bad results something will change.

Re:A field of Two (1)

babydog (3443655) | about 9 months ago | (#45940023)

Not really. Orbital is using old rocket motors from the Soviet moon rocket that was cancelled after Apollo 11. There is a limited supply of stockpiled and usable units. The last time it was in the news, Orbital still hadn't come up with a long-term source with which to meet the next NASA contract. SpaceX builds its own rocket engines. The Atlas V is the sole export customer for currently-produced Russian kerosene-fueled engines, and the Delta IV uses presumably expensive LH2 engines. This is all for the first stage.

almost as good as UPS! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45934433)

Only a few days later than UPS for Xmas presents ;-)

Re:almost as good as UPS! (1)

pcwhalen (230935) | about 9 months ago | (#45934659)

That's cause they shopped online. They NEVER deliver by the Christmas deadline when you shop online.

Re:almost as good as UPS! (1)

kwrzesien (1263426) | about 9 months ago | (#45939867)

That's cause they ASSUMED that Amazon Prime would get there as normal when any sane person would know better. If they really HAD to have it they could have upgraded to 1 Day Delivery and a warning should have been on the website after Friday. Blame this on Bezos and his website, not UPS.

This is a good thing (0)

TWX (665546) | about 9 months ago | (#45934449)

It's been well past time for private enterprise to successfully handle low-earth-orbit delivery, there's nothing in those orbits that's difficult or experimental enough to require nation-state backing in order to fund achieving it. Same should hold true for medium-earth-orbit.

It makes a lot more sense for public projects to handle launches out past geosynchronous orbit, where the technology isn't nearly as reliable and there's less opportunity for profit. Private companies are less likely to develop for technology for high earth orbit as there's just nothing out there to make a profit for them. Governments can drive profitability there by concentrating on science there, which in turn helps drive a market for private companies to service.

The shame of it all is that the Space Shuttle arguably set us back far more in space development than it helped. The Russians eventually even figured it out, though not before they also spent a lot of money not really achieving anything that their Soyuz program and their space station programs couldn't already deliver. Had the shuttle been capable of taking us to the Moon or to at least Lunar orbit, then there might have been some real benefit, but we just sat around in low earth orbit, doing some science but doing too much community relations.

Re:This is a good thing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45934459)

It's been well past time for private enterprise to successfully handle low-earth-orbit delivery, there's nothing in those orbits that's difficult or experimental enough to require nation-state backing in order to fund achieving it.

Why of course, TWX, and I'll bet you've got a project on the drawing board and a mock-up in the garage. How long and how much money did it take SpaceX? Oh, that's right, a long time and a lot of money...

Re:This is a good thing (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 9 months ago | (#45934541)

How long and how much money did it take SpaceX? Oh, that's right, a long time and a lot of money...

Less money than NASA spent to put a fake upper stage on top of a shuttle SRB and fire it into the Atlantic Ocean.

Re:This is a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45934675)

Less money than NASA spent to put a fake upper stage on top of a shuttle SRB and fire it into the Atlantic Ocean.

Is that you, Todd Giffen ( user: strstr [slashdot.org] )? Is this documented at your lame web site: http://www.oregonstatehospital.net [oregonstatehospital.net] ?

Re:This is a good thing (1)

benjfowler (239527) | about 9 months ago | (#45934471)

Comsats to GEO is huge business. I'd have thought that most of the people building, operating and launching stuff into GEO are private. Just recently, SpaceX flawlessly sent two comsats into a geostationary transfer orbit (Orbcomm, Thaisat).

Incidentally, many of the vehicles doing comsat launches are very reliable and are doing double-duty as government launchers. It doesn't necessarily mean that foreign satellite operators are getting subsidised.

Re:This is a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45934553)

In other words,

Thanks, Obama!

Re:This is a good thing (3, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | about 9 months ago | (#45934581)

In other words,

Thanks, Obama!

If we assume ISS shouldn't just be deorbited as a waste of money, space policy is one of the very few things Obama got right. Possibly because he doesn't really care about it.

Re:This is a good thing (3, Insightful)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 9 months ago | (#45935791)

Had the shuttle been capable of taking us to the Moon or to at least Lunar orbit

The problem with the shuttle wasn't that it didn't go beyond LEO. It was a space shuttle, that's what they're for, surface to orbit. For longer trips you take the main ship.

The problem was that is was intended to be a low-cost all-purpose reusable truck that would free up funding for other projects. (For example, that "main ship" I mentioned.) But in reality it became the entirety of HSF, consuming vast amounts of funding. Too much to allow its own replacement to be developed, too much to allow iterative development of Shuttle MkII MkIII MkIV... Too much to commercialise. Too much to allow HSF to advance.

By now pushing LEO-work into the commercial sphere, there's a chance to finally turn to other things... ...Except SLS has been carefully designed to make exactly the same mistakes as the shuttle. The shuttle, okay, they were trying something new, they didn't know better. This time it's wilful and vindictive.

Becomes second private firm? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45934525)

This is the second time they've done it, so the they became the second private firm last year.

Re:Becomes second private firm? (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 9 months ago | (#45934545)

This is the first operational cargo flight for them, isn't it?

Re:Becomes second private firm? (2, Interesting)

Megane (129182) | about 9 months ago | (#45934595)

The other flight was officially a demo flight but brought up actual cargo, just as SpaceX's demo flight did. Needs more adjectives like "second private firm to send cargo to ISS under contract" or something like that. I still think their previous flight was more important.

Further Insight into the Cargo (2)

Skythe (921438) | about 9 months ago | (#45934589)

Simpsons did it. Simpsons did it. (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 9 months ago | (#45936075)

Cargo also included an ant-farm.

[And "video tapes". Because... the '80s?]

not sure if privatization is a good thing. (1)

nimbius (983462) | about 9 months ago | (#45934623)

theres been a recent boom in privatized space launches and exploration, and while im sure its a good thing for the economy I have my reservations. the START database is an excellent example:
https://standards.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]
nasa publishes interesting scientific standards publically which helps further the study of space travel. It also provides a source of independent verification for different components and systems. Privatized space exploration is routinely under intense pressure to redact or restrict access to this information as it is of a "trade secret" nature. Im willing to bet most of the standards data Orbital and SpaceX rely upon and likely refuse to disclose are in fact based upon the START repository.

privatizing space travel and exploration is also in the disinterest of society as historically its natural progression is to increase quarterly revenue in the standard definition of a corporation. issues like environmental impacts then fall to the wayside as 'externalities' and, at worst we turn from sagans starry eyed space voyage to a wal-mart in the stars.
im old, so maybe im overreacting...but I sincerely believe there needs to be some system of independent audit and evaluation in place so that the spirit of space travel doesnt end up a thing of the past.

Re:not sure if privatization is a good thing. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45934703)

"exploration"? Can you name something that was explored by going into low earth orbit ????????????????? "good thing for the economy"?????? You mean for the people that already have money??????

Re:not sure if privatization is a good thing. (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 9 months ago | (#45935921)

Im willing to bet most of the standards data Orbital and SpaceX rely upon and likely refuse to disclose are in fact based upon the START repository.

I don't know about Orbital, but SpaceX routinely credits NASA research for the core of its work. The first Merlin engines, the material for the heat-shield for Dragon. They hired a lot of NASA and Primary-contractor guys, so brought across a lot of ideas. And a lot of their cost-saving manufacturing techniques were originally developed by NASA or through their research contracts. I'm also willing to bet the "pusher" launch-abort system was developed by researchers at, say, JPL, because Boeing & Bigelow adopting the same idea for CST-100.

[The interesting thing is that so little of this work was ever taken up by NASA or the Primes. Orion, for example, doesn't use the newer PICA heatshield material invented by NASA. Instead it uses the older shuttle materials. Similarly it uses an Apollo-style escape-tower instead of a pusher engine. None of the SLS engines will be based on NASA's last 20 years of rocket engine research, but will be refurbished older engines. (Including nine used engines literally taken off the three retired shuttles.)]

Similarly, Bigelow's inflatables were NASA's Transhab research. Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser is HL-20, with some X-38 thrown in.

Re: not sure if privatization is a good thing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45940387)

The new heart shield are based on NASA but improved upon by spaceX (2 ex-Nasa engineers I believe that was hired) it's obvious why others don't use the new new shield. But yes, spacex relied heavily on previous research available to them. Why wouldn't they when they have access to it?

Price per pound - Fruit on sale (0)

pcwhalen (230935) | about 9 months ago | (#45934713)

Fresh fruit? That's some pretty fucking expensive bananas.

How much to put a piece of fruit into orbit?

I mean, I could wait a month to have an apple if I was an astronaut.

Re:Price per pound - Fruit on sale (1)

iroll (717924) | about 9 months ago | (#45934895)

And replace them with what, MREs? Because...?

You do realize that they have to eat either way, right, and that the only difference here is that they will prioritize the fresh food for consumption first. Obviously they need preserved food but there's no reason for them to eat it exclusively, since its only advantage is that it lasts longer. This is what the world's navies have known for only about three thousand years...

Re:Price per pound - Fruit on sale (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45935011)

They should just 3D print fresh fruit in orbit right?

Re:Price per pound - Fruit on sale (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 9 months ago | (#45935973)

Or set up a greenhouse and grow their own.

Re:Price per pound - Fruit on sale (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 9 months ago | (#45935965)

That's some pretty fucking expensive bananas.

I think they avoid bananas because the smell tends to go through the whole station for days, and some crew find it off-putting.

Re:Price per pound - Fruit on sale (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45940437)

People don't work as well when they are miserable. A few freshies can make a huge difference to morale. You've clearly never worked in a remote location or you would be such a jerk about it. I doubt they sent them very much. Just a taste of home.

Think of all the things you could live without. How would you feel if all of them, all of them were taken away. If the only thing you had was the minimum of survival gear and you had to drink your own piss? One apple might be the highlight of your week. That's 6 ounces of heaven for someone, but noooo, some armchair space manager says that's too expensive.

mod 0p (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45935509)

ISS, too Small? (0)

crowaust (2510500) | about 9 months ago | (#45935617)

With all this renewed interest in Space and Space Exploration, I wonder how long before a Planetes(Anime) Style Space Station(ISPV-7) will be put up there, and we start having scheduled trips to the moon :) I wonder if the time set in the series will be accurate, estimating about 2075?
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