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NASA Holds Competition to Develop Space Vehicles

ScuttleMonkey posted about 8 years ago | from the outsourcing-works dept.


BlueCup writes to tell us that the US space agency is holding a competition to develop space vehicles NASA doesn't have the time or resources to develop. The winning companies will get $500 million and NASA will merely lease them as the need arises. From the article: "NASA hopes the private-sector vehicles can bridge an expected gap between when the space shuttle fleet is grounded in 2010 and the crew exploration vehicle is flying in 2014. A thriving commercial space transportation industry also can offer researchers, and others, opportunities to send payloads into space without relying on NASA's crowded space shuttle schedule or worrying 'that the government will decide next month or next year not to launch,' Griffin said."

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How about the Russians? (4, Interesting)

Bob Cat - NYMPHS (313647) | about 8 years ago | (#15602920)

They have a reliable and well tested system, why doesn't NASA use that?

Re:How about the Russians? (2, Insightful)

Eightyford (893696) | about 8 years ago | (#15602979)

They have a reliable and well tested system, why doesn't NASA use that?
Does lining the pockets of a currupt foreign government with american tax dollars seem like a good idea to you?

Re:How about the Russians? (4, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | about 8 years ago | (#15602983)

As opposed to lining the pockets of a corrupt domestic government?

Re:How about the Russians? (2, Funny)

eviltypeguy (521224) | about 8 years ago | (#15603295)

At least the money stays here then -- remember, buy corrupt, buy American (only half-joking).

Re:How about the Russians? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603018)

1) russia already makes plenty of money from its oil & gas resources.
2) they already have the nasty WMDs and weapons, so they obviously won't be spending their money on trying to develop any.
3) the russian people seem to not mind loss of some freedoms, if they get more money.*

* - this statement lacks data to back it up.

They might be corrupt . . . (1)

246o1 (914193) | about 8 years ago | (#15603094)

But they're our Friends! (this is the motto that has let the US (and many other governments) give weapons/money/support/etc. to such friendly faces as Saddam Hussein, S. Vietnam, the Saudi dynasty, the Contras, etc. etc.)

Since we're already supporters of Mr. KGB and his new Tsarist state, we might as well get something out of it, like a crutch for our limping space program.

Re:How about the Russians? (1)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603402)

And the corruption in the US government is a better idea?

Ouch! the truth hurts... (2, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 8 years ago | (#15603048)

See you got modded flamebait, but now interesting.

Too right. If NASA + contractors can't build something that works reliably aand cost effectively then why should they be protected? Let market forces dominate and offshore the whole lot!

Re:Ouch! the truth hurts... (5, Insightful)

Scrameustache (459504) | about 8 years ago | (#15603415)

why should they be protected? Let market forces dominate and offshore the whole lot!

Well, because you don't want the whole lot offshored... because then it's someone else's space program, and you're ancient history.

Damn, I can't belive I'm defending the military-industrial complex! I feel dirty.

Re:How about the Russians? (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | about 8 years ago | (#15603117)

They have a reliable and well tested system, why doesn't NASA use that?

Because we really do need more than a crew of 3 for any real science or construction work. Not to mention that it'd be nice to have something we can leave up on the ISS for more than, what is it, 6 months at at time?

really? (4, Informative)

mnemonic_ (164550) | about 8 years ago | (#15603195)

Name it. The Buran? Nope, not well-tested and uses 70s technology. Soyuz? Yes, it's undergone upgrades throughout the years but might an original design in the 21st century be better? The Soyuz is as conventional as any other rocket system. Yes, it works, but it is hardly the best. It's good current technology; NASA wants something that pushes towards the future. Note that all of the finalist companies are start-ups.

And I can't believe a post got modded +3 without listing a single specific. Oh well, who needs evidence to be "insightful"? Evidently, not the mods.

Re:How about the Russians? (4, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | about 8 years ago | (#15603203)

First, We currently do. But we need to have more systems. If we can get several commercial systems to take hold here, then over the next decade or two, we will see real commercialization of local space.

Second, these systems are SMALL. The one being developed by Space Dev, is simply a scaled down derivation of soemthing that NASA funded. And it will be bigger than all the others. It will be able to take 2 pilots and 4 crew (with very little cargo) into LEO. Will it get us to the moon? Not even close. And if not moon, then mars is obviously out of the question.

Third, the system by NASA will go places that none have been able to since what was developed by kennedy's admin. And yes, that includes the Russian system.

BTW, while the current Russian launch system is mature, it takes them MANY years to get it there on all their systems(for example MIR). They have their fair share of issues with the older versions. When Russia does the klipper, it will be interesting to see how they do.

Re:How about the Russians? (3, Interesting)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603253)

But I see the future as being beyond LEO. There's a lot of crap up there already. Hell, almost anyone can launch to LEO if they have some money either by developing their own launch capability or using someone elses. Commercialization of local space is not space development. It's becoming sprawl. The GP was talking about pushing towards the "future". To me, that is not LEO.

Re:How about the Russians? (2, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | about 8 years ago | (#15603287)

This is about competition to get into space. IOW, to do what russia currently does (and we currently buy from). And yes, we do need to go beyond leo. But LEO can be profitable and is a great first step. Basically, just developing ships to carry passengers to the ISS (or to bigelows SS) will more than be profitable for a few companies. Once that is going, then a company can shoot for the moon. Of course, keep in mind, that NASA is developing a system that can shoot for the moon/mars. Ideally, it will allow a small base camp to be set-up. And the cost of it will probably be more than 20 billions when done. Few small companies can afford that. Even now, Gates and Buffet are getting ready to take their accumulated billions (which they are in the few who could evelop this) and spread it around which means that they will not be able to do this. So how many other companies can do it? well, for a perspective, it cost intel or ibm 1 billion dollars to develop a new manufactuering plant. And that cost is spread over 10 years. 20 billion is beyond large companies, let alone small ones.

Finally, the GP (bob-cat mymphs) does not have the word future in their posting. And there was nothing to indicate that they were thinking about that.

Re:How about the Russians? (1)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603384)

Respectfully, LEO IS profitable and any ship that can carry cargo can also carry passengers. At this point the goal should be exploiting resources beyond LEO. We are already using LEO very well. I love my GPS :) I know we need a consistently reproducible launch system in order to exploit resources beyond LEO. That is the key. I just don't see any current government or corporation expending the resources to develop that and I wish there was a private entity that had the resources to do so. 500 million dollars means nothing for that endeavor. I think we as a species are very shortsighted most of the time and those of us who try to think big and further into the future are a minority. You also obviously see the bigger picture but how can we promote that?

Re:How about the Russians? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603444)

One of the best shot just died tonight with buffet's announcement. It is possible that over the next decade or two, somebody else will accumulate that much money (that is, == to gates and buffet). It will probably be a chinese business person. At that time, hopefully they will have the foresight to invest into such ventures as building a maglev or better yet, sending a small mining colony to mars.

What is sad about this, is that more could have been done for society and charities by starting a number of small businesses that then have to give one percent back to charity forever. Once we get back to think long term about our fellow man and our nation (something that we seem to have forgotten over the last 20 years), then we will see progress.

Of course, another good one would be paul Allen. Paul is very interested in long-term rather than short-term returns. Seeing as how he was the main money behind Rutan, perhaps he will invest into getting us to mars/moon.

NIH syndrome (1)

HermanAB (661181) | about 8 years ago | (#15603206)

Not Invented Here...

Re:How about the Russians? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603208)

I believe that the main reason is that NASA is prohibited by federal law from buying services from any other country.

Re:How about the Russians? (1)

Keebler71 (520908) | about 8 years ago | (#15603276)

We are... we currently buy both Progress and Soyuz missions to meet our requirements. We can't continue to do this because there is a law on the book that says we can't. It is called the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act. [] Relief has been extended but it prohibits us from dealing with countries that share technology with Iran and Syria. After 2011, it will be illegal to buy Soyuz and Progress flights.

Why develop the CEV at all? (4, Interesting)

Eric Smith (4379) | about 8 years ago | (#15602926)

If private industry can come up with a spacecraft that can meet the needs from 2010 to 2014, why shouldn't it meet the needs from 2014 forward?

No need for NASA then (4, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 8 years ago | (#15603007)

NASA is not a scientific body, it is and **administration** which is why it takes so long and costs so much to do anything.

If civvies can get into space, then there's surely no further need for a federal space program and embarrasments like the shuttle can be put behind us.

Re:No need for NASA then (2, Insightful)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603146)

Repeating myself from a prior post on the subject... Our elected representatives have "pork" projects that are funded from our space program. The federal funds get raped for any kind of "space" project that might be included in some local interest. Does your closest major city have a "science center". Try the Maryland Science Center at Baltimore, the Carnegie Science Center, the Arizona Science Center, or the Detroit Science Center. All of the elected government officials get a slice of the budget that supposedly promotes the space program. If our space program's budget wasn't siphoned off for bullshit projects we might be able to accomplish something substantial. That, and the fact that the whole system is management top heavy is what kills success.

Re:No need for NASA then (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603350)

We are too easy a mark for government. We have gotten a government like we chose women. The government is dumb, top heavy and that hand in your back pocket isn't fondling your behind.

Re:No need for NASA then (1)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603392)

Your comments are on target...maybe. Do you have any suggestions as to how to fix things?

How to fix NASA (2, Interesting)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 8 years ago | (#15603420)

Instead of being an administration, by administrators, for administrators, with political goals, perhaps it would be better if NASA was replaced by an organisation run by scientists for scientists, with scientific goals. If the scientists saw the money as research funds they'd probably treat it with more respect and make sure they (1) attacked scientific goals and (2) got their money's worth.

Re:How to fix NASA (1)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603441)

Would they respect the research funds or look for some way to extend the funding for as long as possible to keep their jobs secure for as long as possible? Just playing devil's advocate... Even scientists can have selfish goals. Find me an altruistic manager for the program and I'll be glad to donate.

Because the FAA will non-nasa one unsafe. (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | about 8 years ago | (#15603087)

Because the FAA will declare the non-governmental one unsafe.

Re:Why develop the CEV at all? (1)

jmichaelg (148257) | about 8 years ago | (#15603310)

Seems to me Griffin is hedging with a 2-pronged approach. He's saying he'll try this approach but keep CEV going in case this approach fails. General Groves did the same thing during the Manhattan project - he had three different uranium enrichment technologies developed at the same time because he couldn't see which one would win out.

unrealistic (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | about 8 years ago | (#15603355)

Private industry can't solve NASA's transportation gap with a trickle of funding which dries up in 2014 because NASA will be back to doing their own thing.

Although the article was sparse on details, it's already clear that the economic incentives in the proposal are almost certainly unrealistic. Like everything else they have done, this is likely to fail. This time, however, a couple lucky winners are likely to suck a bunch of venture capital into the unrealistic programs and go down in a dot-com style flame with no vehicle and no customers, probably torpedoing investment in this industry for a decade to follow.

Re:unrealistic (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | about 8 years ago | (#15603363)

Ooops... a cut and past error. I *meant* to say:

Like the endless serious of paper-studies and cancelled test flight vehicles that NASA have done since building the Space Shuttle, this is likely to fail.

X-prize? (4, Interesting)

jollyroger1210 (933226) | about 8 years ago | (#15602934)

Isn't this ust a reiteration of the X-Prize?

(by a different entity)

Yes it is... (2, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 8 years ago | (#15603014)


The only part of the government that should be in the business of building and flying space vehicles is the military.


Re:Yes it is... (1)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603210)

For successful, long term exploitation you might be right. IF, the funds are dedicated without pork projects killing the budget.

NO, It's NOT the X-prize? (2, Insightful)

twiddlingbits (707452) | about 8 years ago | (#15603103)

The X-prize has been won. SpaceShipOne achieved its most spectacular flight yet, climbing to an altitude of 377591 feet (71 1/2 miles) to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize back in Oct 2005. This is a MUCH bigger and much tougher contest, however knowing NASA they'll drag this thing out 2-3-5 years and then all these companies will either be gone or have commercialized the systems on thier own and won't need the NASA $$$. Or NASA could split the prize money 2 or 3 ways and none of the winners would get adequate funding. NASA should give the money to a private foundation (like maybe Ansara???) who then makes the awards.

Re:X-prize? (3, Insightful)

plover (150551) | about 8 years ago | (#15603233)

It may be, but the Ansari X-Prize didn't come with a time frame. Don't they think it's a little late to start asking industry to come up with a solution for 2010? Three and a half years may seem like a long time to get a project off the ground (so to speak,) but to design and build an entire orbit-achieving spaceship, it seems pretty short to me.

This isn't just a reworked White Knight we're talking about here. The White Knight was specifically designed to win the X-prize. Van said all along that it was a suborbital design from the get go, and was specifically not designed as a first-stage-to-orbit kind of ship.

My guess is that one of the booster makers (like Boeing or Lockheed) is going to paste a passenger capsule on top of an existing rocket. The technology of lifting is already done.

Re:X-prize? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603297)

No... the X-Prize was a contest. The first player to meet the objectives won the money. This is a package of incentives to encourage commercial companies to develop a spacecraft. As they hit various milestones.. they get small payments. If they demonstrate the full capability, they (potentially) get a contract.

Joke... (-1, Troll)

Kawahee (901497) | about 8 years ago | (#15602936)

What does NASA stand for?


Re:Joke... (0, Offtopic)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15602945)

If you mean what you say in your'll never subscribe. Typo's are a defining trait of Slashdut.

Mod down (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603003)

Joke copied from here [] .

Re:Joke... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603173)

Wow, this was almost funny when I first heard it in 1987. May you be modded "idiot".

The year was 1987 (4, Interesting)

Audent (35893) | about 8 years ago | (#15602944)

And Nasa launched the last of its deep space probes...

Sadly, I worry that might well be true.

Why not simply turn over access to "deep space" to private enterprise? Asteroid belt mining is a staple of SF - is there a real commercial incentive today or do we have to wait till ol' Mother Earth runs out of diggable dirt-based useful stuff first?

And wasn't there a story about the moon being made not of cheese but of some kind of minable ... helium? Something like that...

(wanders off to google for a bit)

Re:The year was 1987 (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15602970)

Asteroid belt mining is a staple of SF - is there a real commercial incentive today or do we have to wait till ol' Mother Earth runs out of diggable dirt-based useful stuff first?

Probably the latter. Chairmen who have to answer to shareholders will choose short-term small profits over long-term huge profits everytime. And asteroid belt mining really is a long-term deal. Besides, weren't Larry Niven's belters all crazy aloof separatists? I don't think any corporation wants its miners to declare independence from headquarters.

FWIW, Michael Flynn in his future history starting with Firestar [] has the human race mining asteroids that come near Earth's orbit first. Slimmer pickings, perhaps, but they are easy to get to, and if you're keeping track of local asteroids for profit, you also have a better early-warning system for one coming close enough to possibly impact the Earth.

Re:The year was 1987 (2, Insightful)

BenJeremy (181303) | about 8 years ago | (#15602987)

Yes, we should exploit deep space as soon as possible for any number of reasons, but the most compelling is economic... Isn't nickel (required for stainless steel) getting rather rare these days? Yet it's plentiful in the asteroid belt. While the harsh environment of deep space forces some new processes to extract minerals, it also provides more efficiencies in other areas.

The simplest approach to mining would be to fabricate simple ablative heat shields and automated re-entry mechanisms for loads of metals and drop them into the desert (every continent has desert areas to use for recovery of these materials), where they could be easily recovered.

The unstated part of the problem, of course, lies in the fact that as the process becomes more routine, the price of rare metals goes down drastically, since the supply becomes far more plentiful.

Still, the bounty of mining our belt for raw materials that are being depleted (or where mining of such material is restricted for environmental concerns) could provide us incentive to enter a true "space age".

Re:The year was 1987 (1)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | about 8 years ago | (#15603272)

Isn't nickel (required for stainless steel) getting rather rare these days? Yet it's plentiful in the asteroid belt.

I agree, and the concept was a thought-starter. Here's an idea -- it feels a bit trollish, but I hope it's not taken that way:

Imagine for a moment what would happen if an asteroid of nearly pure gold that was not quite a dinosaur killer, yet capable of some considerable ecospheric shock, was found to be on a collision course for Earth?

What would the matrix of political pressures look like?

Re:The year was 1987 (4, Insightful)

cyclone96 (129449) | about 8 years ago | (#15603085)

Why not simply turn over access to "deep space" to private enterprise? Asteroid belt mining is a staple of SF - is there a real commercial incentive today or do we have to wait till ol' Mother Earth runs out of diggable dirt-based useful stuff first?

If there was a commercial incentive, it would be done. There is no "access" to deep space to turn over to free enterprise - they are free to launch stuff into deep space and mine the asteroids all they want if they choose to. Sure, a license is required, but licensing is essentially demonstrating to the government that you won't endanger the public or cause an international incident. Governments appear to have a monopoly on deep space launches only because there is currently no profit to be made, so they're the only ones doing it.

Re:The year was 1987 (4, Interesting)

Qzukk (229616) | about 8 years ago | (#15603109)

is there a real commercial incentive today or do we have to wait till ol' Mother Earth runs out of diggable dirt-based useful stuff first?

We'll have to wait well beyond then. First we'll have to wait until whats on Earth has been used up. We could go earlier, but the cost-benefit analysis says that it'll cost a lot and if they don't do it, then major corporations will benefit hugely by selling less metal for more money.

Once what we've got is all "gone", we'll have to wait some more... see, like idiots the people of the future kept saying "oh theres plenty it'll last for decades, and once it's gone we'll figure something else out!" Only now that it's gone, they're discovering that they really needed that metal to "figure something else out". So now "other" major companies (the mining companies went bankrupt when they ran out of metal to mine, all the miners were laid off, and the top brass assembled a new company, exactly the same as the old, but with cheaper workers since all of the freshly unemployed weren't exactly in a good bargaining position). These companies will recycle the used metal.

Except! It would be a terrible shame if these companies spent billions figuring out how to recycle all the rare metals and then lost their market to fresh space-ore. So they patent the process of retrieving ore from orbit, and proceed to sit on it for the duration of the patent. Meanwhile, they start spreading FUD about how much more expensive it would be to get ore from space and now that they can recycle nickel and other metals, they don't need it anyway. Metal is plentiful again, and people quit caring about space.

Problem solved, assuming that we manage to pull off a miracle and find a replacement for oil before it runs out, and not after the last part needed for the oil replacement equipment gets stranded in the middle of the desert because the truck it was on ran out of gas. Maybe companies will figure out a stopgap recycling solution for oil too... soylent oil anyone?

Re:The year was 1987 (1)

HermanAB (661181) | about 8 years ago | (#15603223)

The space mining conundrum: If there was a belt of gold a foot thick circling the earth at a height that a spacecraft can reach, it would not be worth it - and you want to go to the asteroid belt? What can possibly be that valuable?

Re:The year was 1987 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603334)

So doesn't this say to us that the corporate model just isn't working (as far as deep space exploration/exploitation is concerned) and we really need another approach...

namely one that's not driven solely by the commercial model.

Back to govts? Hey, Bill and Melissa have billions to spare - would they like to fund it?

Re:The year was 1987 (0, Troll)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603344)

You're not far off. Helium is a limited natural resource that we will run out of in the not too far future. I agree about private enterprise but as I said in previous post I don't see that as being allowed by any major government. Private enterprise is best able to start and promote exploitation of resources outside of LEO if they are allowed the opportunity and they see it as a long term profit. Maybe Buffet and the Gates' will see it as a goal...

I have a winner (5, Funny)

DoubleRing (908390) | about 8 years ago | (#15602955)

Oooh! I have a design I've been working on in the weekends, not that I'm an engineer or anything. If anyone had a link to where we can submit our designs...I'm sure I would win. Umm, they're not asking for a working prototype are they? So, when can I expect my 500 million?

Re:I have a winner (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | about 8 years ago | (#15602977)

Your design wouldn't happen to involve 'warp drives' would it? Because thats just science fiction. And besides I'd have to sue you for taking my design idea.

Re:I have a winner (2, Funny)

heptapod (243146) | about 8 years ago | (#15603175)

Oh no, I saw the plans myself and it's just a surplus submarine fitted with a Dean drive [] !

It works! Honest! Newton's Fourth Law or something!!!

Re:I have a winner (1)

nihaopaul (782885) | about 8 years ago | (#15603055)

well i've been working on my submission, i've made it out of 6 kits i've collected over the years, it has some big wheels of rubber to make sure it doesn't get a puncher, it is controlled by 3 6volt moters, can be repaired onsite depending on availbility of these weightless pieces and i'm sure if i get the lego remote kit i can have it controlable from a distance, only thing i dont know about is how lego stands up in those conditions, i left some outside in the rain before and after a bit of washing its exactly how it was.

oh wait this is slashdot.. n/m

Great for a one shot vehicle... (4, Insightful)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15602968)

500 million isn't enough to develop a long term, repeatable, economical vehicle for launches. 500 million gets you one vehicle that MAY launch successfully...once.

Re:Great for a one shot vehicle... (4, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | about 8 years ago | (#15602982)

500 million isn't enough to develop a long term, repeatable, economical vehicle for launches. 500 million gets you one vehicle that MAY launch successfully...once.

The X-Prize folks seem to be doing just fine so far with a much smaller budget.

Re:Great for a one shot vehicle... (1)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15602997)

Good for them...and they have how many contracts for launching satellites or research projects?

Re:Great for a one shot vehicle... (2, Insightful)

node 3 (115640) | about 8 years ago | (#15603090)

A two-man sub-orbital vehicle that barely breaches the boundary of space is a far cry from an orbital vehicle capable of carrying an actual crew and/or supplies and stay in orbit for days on end.

Re:Great for a one shot vehicle... (2, Informative)

Alfred, Lord Tennyso (975342) | about 8 years ago | (#15603351)

In addition to what node3 said, there's also the whole trick about bringing it back. SpaceShipOne never got above 1km/s. LEO is nearly an order of magnitude greater (7.8km/s). Energy goes by the square of the velocity, so LEO requires 60 times as much energy.

And then you have to shed most of that velocity to get it back; that's equivalent to absorbing and re-radiating all the fuel you burned putting it up.

It's a long, long way from the X-Prize to commercial orbital vehicles.

Re:Great for a one shot vehicle... (4, Funny)

QuantumG (50515) | about 8 years ago | (#15602989)

I know it's hard for people to understand this, but spacecraft are not monolithic. You can design a space capsule and then launch it on any launcher that has a standard profile. Kinda like being about to run an application on any operating system, oh wait, no, hang on. Kinda like being able to use any razorblade in your razor. Ok, not a good example either. I know, kinda like being able to use any kind of tires on your car! Yes, that'll do.

Re:Great for a one shot vehicle... (3, Funny)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603194)

Yup, those 15 inch tires fit great on 17 inch rims...

All I have to say is... (5, Interesting)

Xiroth (917768) | about 8 years ago | (#15602976)

Frickin' finally. This is possibly the best possibly future for the public space agencies - fund research and development through a combination of grants and prizes, and not actually work on the problems themselves. They've done good work in the past, but they've simply become too large and inefficient, and that's exactly what privitisation is best at combating. This is very good news for people looking towards the future of space exploration, exploitation and colonisation

Re:All I have to say is... (4, Interesting)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603031)

I respectfully disagree. At anytime you could have the entirety of your work taken away for "state security" reasons. The US government will NEVER allow a completely private entity to control space to a greater degree than the government. I'll mention it again...Robert Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is the example that government will follow. If you control space to any degree you can throw "rocks" at the planet. The rocks can be anything where some mass will survive reentry and be able to be aimed at a target. The US government has contingency plans for "aliens from outer space". Why would they allow a domestic threat of the same magnitude?

Re:All I have to say is... (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | about 8 years ago | (#15603131)

If you control space to any degree you can throw "rocks" at the planet.

Yes, and that's why there's the US Space Command. To come and nuke your space outpost back into a lifeless unhabitable stretch of vacum.

Re:All I have to say is... (1)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603171)

What US Space Command? They're going to ask Russia or China to send up a nuke to take out a privately held vessel or station? Even if they could do that (space is BIG) they wouldn't. Hell, I could cut a deal with China or Russia in second if I'm saying I'll fuck up the US and side with them. Or...I say instead of throwing shit at the US I'll throw it at you...doesn't China have a REALLY big dam that they'd be really unhappy about a catastrophic failure due to meteor? Russia has the same kind of weak points.

Re:All I have to say is... (2, Insightful)

solitas (916005) | about 8 years ago | (#15603433)

And exactly what does the US Space Command have in its closet that can get off the ground as far as even the 'space station'; let alone with any kind of weapon attached?

Re:All I have to say is... (4, Insightful)

node 3 (115640) | about 8 years ago | (#15603227)

they've [NASA] simply become too large and inefficient
They've always been large and inefficient. That's the only way certain things can be accomplished.

and that's exactly what privitisation is best at combating
Almost. Privatization is best at "optimizing for profit", and only that. It just so happens that in a great majority of endeavors, that leads to increased productivity, freedom and quality-of-life.

However, some things do not benefit from privatization. These things tend to be public services, utilities, life-and-death services, very difficult/expensive endeavors with inadequate profit potential, and things that don't get done otherwise. In the case of NASA, we are stuck with "very difficult, expensive, and lack of sufficient profit motive".

That said, properly executed partnerships with private corporations (as is done with the shuttle, and I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't also the case with Apollo), can let the private sector do what it does best and large governmental organizations do what they do best. The biggest problem with just throwing it out there for the private sector (as it sounds is the case here), is that:

1. The private sector will only do it if they believe there's profit in it.
2. The private sector may fail to provide anything.

The drawback with #1 is that the private sector won't necessarily provide the best vehicle, but the most profitable vehicle. That's not to say that a government agency will necessarily do the best (after all, the Air Force's interests altered the shuttle into a substantially inferior craft). Still, removing the profit motive removes a major potential conflict of interest. Additionally, the profit will have to come from NASA anyway, so what's the difference for NASA to just design the craft and contract out construction anyway?

The potential drawback of #2 is even more severe. A hobbled craft is superior, at least in the short-term, to no craft at all (poorly executed, a hobbled craft could set the space program backwards (as some have claimed the shuttle has done), but at least we've got something to get us into space). What are NASA's plans if the private sector fails to deliver a product (note: the private sector has never delivered a complete orbital human-flight spacecraft, so what makes NASA think they will manage to do so so quickly?)? Do we just bow out of space for the interim? Do we hitchhike aboard Soyuz? Extend the shuttle program? (According to TFA, sadly, it appears that the answer is this is only to go to ISS, so, aside from missions there, we effectively will be bowing out of non-ISS-related human spaceflight for four years. F**K! Someone, please, prove me wrong!)

In my opinion, I'd prefer Congress just fund NASA enough to do what they need to do, so long as it can be done within reason. After all, as I point out above, if the private sector does come up with a solution, NASA will still have to foot the bill anyway. If NASA really thinks this will work, it sounds like excessive faith in the free market. If NASA really knows the high improbability that this will succeed, it sounds more like an attempt to use the private sector as a scapegoat ("no one anticipated[*] the private sector would fail to provide a solution").

[*] Three magical words which seem able to absolve the speaker from any personal responsibility or blame for any disaster or failure.

Another "Military" Industrial Complex? (5, Insightful)

clragon (923326) | about 8 years ago | (#15602980)

are we seeing the forming of an equivilant of the Military-Industrial_Complex [] in the field of Space Exloration? Will the government contracts to private companies lead to massive spending in the field of space exloration like it did for the Millitary starting after WWII?

Re:Another "Military" Industrial Complex? (1)

Maelwryth (982896) | about 8 years ago | (#15603022)

I doubt it. Reason one, the economy can't take it. Reason two, the 500 million will be awarded to a company in the existing Military Industrial Complex.

Re:Another "Military" Industrial Complex? (1)

Lord Satri (609291) | about 8 years ago | (#15603052)

"forming of an equivilant of the Military-Industrial_Complex"

Forming? Isn't military, industrial and space technology already [] having close ties? You're probacly right: the military and big corps may benefit (again) from NASA-money. I'm not sure if it's a bad thing or not. If it was just me, I'd considerably reduce military spending and put it in industry & space tech, but this has more to do with social values than how you try to foster innovation (such as promising prizes to out-source development and still get the benefits).

Re:Another "Military" Industrial Complex? (1)

ScentCone (795499) | about 8 years ago | (#15603156)

like it did for the Millitary starting after WWII

You're confusing the end of WWII with the beginning of the Cold War. The type of spending that was done for WWII (other than that which finally ended it for Japan) wasn't really aligned for staring down the Soviets. Of course, that new wave of R&D sure didn't hurt the space program.

Re:Another "Military" Industrial Complex? (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 8 years ago | (#15603245)

The real problem is that we already have that. Basically, the gov is in the process of approving the merger of LMart's and Boeings rocket division in the interest of saving money. But it will not. Basically this admin just moved our 2 biggest companies into a monopoly and is willing to grant them huge contracts. OTH, NASA's COTs approach will encourage multiple companies to develop rockets and space access. I suspect that COTs will be be divided with 250M going to one company, and then another of 150M and another ot 100M, so that we have 3 companies. In addition, I would not be surprised to see congress approve another go at it in hopes of getting another company funded (namely in their own district).

Re:Another "Military" Industrial Complex? (1)

alshithead (981606) | about 8 years ago | (#15603426)

And...I'll bet everyone on congress owns shares of those companies regardless of which road is followed.

Re:Another "Military" Industrial Complex? (1)

ksheff (2406) | about 8 years ago | (#15603348)

Sounds good to me. Just think of all the geeks that will be needed to do the work.

Out of reach? (4, Insightful)

triskaidekaphile (252815) | about 8 years ago | (#15602984)

A curious thought here: if a corporation could launch a fleet of ships to outer space, wouldn't that put them out of government reach? Sure, seize their ground control, they'll just land in another country. (If not drop a bomb of their own!) Obviously we would need a way to destroy such a threat! Let's contract out for a solution!

Re:Out of reach? (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | about 8 years ago | (#15603001)

Feh. Bombs? Hell, I'll drop a three mile diameter iron asteroid on your ass with the thrust from a Roman candle. Can you say "Extinction Event"??

Orwell updated.... (3, Insightful)

styryx (952942) | about 8 years ago | (#15602994)

"When deep space exploration ramps up, it'll be the corporations that name everything, the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks."
  - Fight Club ;)

It's bad enough now with the Telco's thinking they own the internet. So NASA will lease them for some of the time, what about the rest of the time...? Does the company get to use it's own gear to put up satellites and what not?

To be objective, I guess someone's got to pay for it. But space travel and the means to do so should not be patented away, preventing anyone else the means to get to space should they wish to build their own machine and get off this rock; perhaps assurances against something like this will be needed?

(Toungue-in-cheek throughout.)

Seed Money (1)

Joebert (946227) | about 8 years ago | (#15603017)

The U.S. space agency is sponsoring a competition in which winning companies will get $500 million (?397 million) in seed money to develop space vehicles that NASA will never design, build or own. Like a U-Haul truck rental, NASA instead will merely lease them on a per-trip basis for sending cargo and eventually crew to the international space station.

This isn't a race to devolop products, this is a race to design an Intergalactic Business Model.

Look at that, maybe IBM had it right all along.

Harry Broderick and Salvage-1 (1)

BenJeremy (181303) | about 8 years ago | (#15603029)

NASA should get a hold of him - his ship even made it to the moon, and was built using an old cement mixer!

Re:Harry Broderick and Salvage-1 (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about 8 years ago | (#15603167)

There's a reference [] the kids won't get. I remember it well, though.

Re:Harry Broderick and Salvage-1 (1)

McBainLives (683602) | about 8 years ago | (#15603280)

I have faint memories of that show- there was one episode with Bigfoot, and one episode with two Andy Griffiths...

Probably a naive thought but... (2, Interesting)

bgfay (5362) | about 8 years ago | (#15603104)

wouldn't this make a fantastic project for science departments in universities? It seems like it would be a great connection for some venture capitalist and NASA to create several design centers that would share all information and create a plan that would have as its goal to be inexpensive, creative, and efficient. It's probably a pipe-dream, but it would be an incredible way to invigorate science work in this country at all levels, to engage funding in educational institutions, and likely earn an incredible profit down the road.

Why not just privatise NASA? (1)

duncan bayne (544299) | about 8 years ago | (#15603147)

Why not just privatise NASA altogether, and stop wasting billions of dollars of taxpayers money? The X-Prize has shown that the future of space travel is clearly private - IMO, this venture shows that NASA realises it too, and is trying to delay the inevitable.

Re:Why not just privatise NASA? (2, Interesting)

Eightyford (893696) | about 8 years ago | (#15603424)

Why not just privatise NASA altogether, and stop wasting billions of dollars of taxpayers money? The X-Prize has shown that the future of space travel is clearly private - IMO, this venture shows that NASA realises it too, and is trying to delay the inevitable.
There's a big difference between real scientific research and getting a few thrill seekers into "space". Orbit is much harder to reach than what Rutan's creation achieved. Real space travel isn't going to be possible for a real long time anyways. We need a destination first, and until then we'll just have expensive space-cruises for a small group of rich people. That wont pay for a new Hubble. There's no private market for space telescopes.

Re:Why not just privatise NASA? (2, Insightful)

duncan bayne (544299) | about 8 years ago | (#15603448)

> There's no private market for space telescopes.

Which means ... you want space telescopes, & think other people should be made to pay for them?

Resurrect Apollo (3, Interesting)

SourceVisigoth (141614) | about 8 years ago | (#15603160)

NASA already has an extremely well-tested and effective vehicle. The Space Shuttle is a weak and complex design that replaced a great and simple design.

For less than $500 million NASA could replace the Apollo program 1960's computers (on board and ground control) and develop a new hatch to allow the Apollo command module to connect to the Space Station. Beyond that, just mass produce Saturn 5's and Command/Lander modules.

This new competition is a Feel Good(TM) program that hands out money to the contractors, when NASA has already done the job.

Re:Resurrect Apollo (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603224)

the apollo capsule could not attach to ISS for the exact same reason that the shuttle could not attach to skylab. Different pressures.

Apollo - 5 PSI pure oxygen
Skylab - 5 PSI pure oxygen
Space Shuttle - 12-15 PSI oxygen nitrogen mixture
International Space Station - 12-15 PSI oxygen nitrogen mixture

despite what you think, they are not so dumb at NASA.

Re:Resurrect Apollo (4, Insightful)

wonkobeeblebrox (983151) | about 8 years ago | (#15603422)

I don't think anyone (even NASA) still has the full blueprints for the Saturn V rockets anymore. As I recall, Apollo 17 went up and then the rockets for 18 and 19 were still in the launch pipeline when the moon program was canceled.

Now, over 3 decades later, you are looking at military contractors which have gone bankrupt or merged or been acquired or who-knows-what-else. Beyond that, the "people knowledge" of those who designed and built the Saturn 5's is long gone by now, and I'm willing to bet that in something as complex as a Saturn V, there is at least one piece of now-undocumented design information, waiting to spoil someone's day...

In short: the two remaining Saturn V's that are still around (Johnson and Kennedy Space Flight centers, serial numbers SA-514 and SA-515) are the only two to exist for the foreseeable future. When we, as a nation, decide to go to the moon again, we'll have to build a new rocket from scratch.

The Private Sector (4, Insightful)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | about 8 years ago | (#15603190)

I think its great giving free enterprise a shot at this. This kind of thing would be impossible in the Marxist societies I have been seeing advocated all weekend on Slashdot.

Re:The Private Sector (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603403)

You're joking, right? Let's see number of people put into space by free enterprise: 0.66 (X-Prize did not make it to LEO)
Number of people put into space by Marxist governments: One metric fuckton

Speaking of.... (1)

frostoftheblack (955294) | about 8 years ago | (#15603198)

Where's George Lucas when you need him?

NASA should... (5, Insightful)

kahrytan (913147) | about 8 years ago | (#15603216)

What NASA should be doing is developing a workable business model that will make itself self-sufficient.

NASA SHOULD BE OFFERING commercial services to American Civilians.

1. Suborbital Flights.
2. Cremation Services with Partial ashes launched into space.
3. For Fee Licensing of Patents resulting from NASA Research.
4. And any other compettiive services Comercial companies plan to offer.

And those who think government shouldn't be making money, you should be reminded of United States Postal Service. USPS is a self-sufficient government agency. They rarely ask for federal money.

Not made here syndrome (3, Insightful)

Chris Deegan (764287) | about 8 years ago | (#15603219)

The sad thing is that for 20 mill a pop, you can contract Energia to fly soyuz/progress. Much cheaper, safer and reliable. But politics just get in the way of good science. If I were NASA I would buy the design and rights to manufacture it, but they never would because it aint made in the US.

Govt should paty money to Co's instead of NASA (1)

ABeowulfCluster (854634) | about 8 years ago | (#15603266)

That way, they can cut out the middleman.

spinners in space (2, Funny)

Cr0t (963724) | about 8 years ago | (#15603308)

I started to laugh so hard after I read the title. The first thing that came me was some weird looking space mobile with spinners, hydraulics and the aliens from mars keep on yelling turn down the bass bro!

My Personal Titan1 missle Star Wars Defense Progie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603313)

Off the exit on I-75 near Warner Robins Airforce base on the Way to Macon, GA, stands (vertically) in a Krystal parking lot, a Titan I missle, erected by the Confederate Airforce (whats that, what? the Confederacy has an airforce? one they lost, two.. airplanes weren't even invented yet) on a plot of ground 10ft by 10ft.

Here's my proposal. NASA dumps a cool 10 million on me (a bargain).... me and my slashdot hacker buddies with get that bird flying again and lob that bitch into space with a monkey on board (any polititians willing to volunteer? lots of free publicity)

I'm going to need several trucks full of highly explosive LOX, a case load of AMD Dualcore X2 boxs to setup mission control in the trailer behind my house, and an armful of Kryon spraypaint from Walmart and some hippies to paint it with plenty of Vietnam era peace logos and flowers. Also, several 1960's era Volkswagen buses for field vehicles.

There's no time to lose. North Korea is about to lob one of their protype nukes at us, we must make a display of force as a country lest the rest of the world realizes the US is really the puffed up pansies we really are. We didn't use a single nuke in Iraq, but yet like complete idiots hurled depleted uranium around the battlefield which did nothing but cause horrible mutations for the next 2000 years in any child born in the area. What kind of country is that. We have to show them we're boss again, like when we dropped those nukes on those slat eyed civilian cities in World War II. Boy them were the good old days. Damn any transplanted American children or women living in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, they should of been back in Kansas where they belonged.

All geeks who want to volunteer to be flight engineers, techie hackers, ground support personell, PR people, mission control specialists, here's your chance. Email me at and lets get the avionics upraded on this multiton flying chunk of rusty steal to the latest linux kernel. I want webcams from every angle on this bird to broadcast live footage across the web to Belarus and every other ruskie state.

Einstein []

Re: Revised Proposal (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603369)

Ok, I just re-watched Ron Howards Apollo 13, the Right Stuff, and Alien with Ripley Scott, old Battlestar Galacticas, and Armagedon, and I realize, what we don't need is any more monkeys in space. Instead, what the Conferation of Planet Earth needs but is sorely lacking is some kind of, any kind of, planetary defense against alien invastion.

We are absolutly a fat, sitting blue green target brightly shining like a Christmas ornament hanging in space. There is no telling how many burned out, hungry and strapped for resources from their own exhausted planets, aliens out there on warships just looking for a virgin juicy planet with lots of lush vegetation, and topaz tropical beaches, to rape, like a black convict fresh out of prison with a switchblade in a dark alley going after some white wiminz. If that don't raise the hair on any god fearing Republican's neck, then by gawd John Wayne isn't the Duke.

So I hearby organize and found the Interstellar Earth Planetary Defense Command (IEPDC) under my emergency leadership, for the confederated defense and protection of planet Earth and all its vested interests.

We ask for an initial minimum of 10 billion, to be contributed to by all nations of the Earth, for its common protection, in direct correlation to its relative ability to contribute (gross nation product, etc).

Initial investments will go into heated brainstorming and research sessions, to develop potentially feasible technical proposals as to the best and most effective and expedient way the planet can be geared up and protected against alien invasions, as well as exploring how these scenarios would ensue, what countermeasures could be taken, and how these threats are to be monitored for with long range surveilance of the skys.

Time is of the essense to pass this through immediatly, because gentlemen, we have been complacent our our little blue green planet too long, living like a baby sucking on its mama's teat oblivious of the frighteningly dangerous and real universe we are living in. There is no time to waste. The time for preparing for the inevitable war is now.

Initially the first commitee will explore, whethere conventioanal intercontinental ballistic missle performance can be enhanced and flight controls modified and expanded, for launch at inbound targets far out headed on an intercept path with Earth. How these weapnos could be protected, until they reach their targets (inbound enemy space craft) and a centralized planetary defense mission control warroom to coordinate this defense.

NASA? (3, Funny)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | about 8 years ago | (#15603347)

What's NASA? Some kind of lottery agency? Prizes for this. Prizes for that. Are they based in Vegas?

Griffin said it. (2, Informative)

Baldrson (78598) | about 8 years ago | (#15603365)

"It is well past time for NASA to do everything it can to stimulate commercial space transportation ... and I'm trying to do that."

Right on, Mr. Griffin. []


Americans need a frontier, not a program.

Incentives open frontiers, not plans.

If this Subcommittee hears no other message through the barrage of studies, projections and policy recommendations, it must hear this message. A reformed space policy focused on opening the space frontier through commercial incentives will make all the difference to our future as a world, a nation and as individuals.

Armadillo (4, Informative)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | about 8 years ago | (#15603397)

If you're interested in what John Carmack is doing these days, he's made a bunch of interesting posts on the aRocket [] list, specifically about developing an OTRAG [] modular rocket engine vehicle. He recently made this post (he has specifically given premission to reprint his words in the past, BTW). Exciting stuff. Carmack is the only one who I have any confidence in that will be able to go to orbit cheaply.

Peter Fairbrother wrote:

> >> First, $100 million isn't enough, several people have tried
> >> and failed at $100 million projects.
> >
> > Failure has not been limited to $100 million projects. I suspect the
> > failures you speak of are where people tried to build $1 billion
> > vehicles for $100 million price tags.
>Yes - and a reasonable LEO launch system needs a half-billion-dollar
>vehicle. You can't really do it more cheaply. Reread the minimum mass to
>orbit thread, and then remember we need a decent payload as well.

We have been discussing the modular OTRAG designs for a reason --
they offer an incremental, scaleable, low cost development path to
inexpensive access to LEO.

I'm completely confident that "per-tube" costs can be under $10k, and
they might get below $5k. You should be able to get 10 - 20 pounds
of payload to LEO per-tube, depending on final Isp and mass ratios.

The size, scope, and complexity of the individual modules is lower
than the work we are currently doing at Armadillo, so development and
tooling expenses are modest. Module design and production can be
improved incrementally to decrease costs, like any mass produced item.

A few screw ups on the way to orbit are probably inevitable, so you
might need to produce several hundred tubes before entering revenue
service, but it still looks like it could be done in the low tens of
millions of dollars, even being rather pessimistic. You could even
buy a few pacific islands for yourself if you really needed to. That
is a long way from half a billion, let alone ten billion.

A system like this won't get to $100 / lb to LEO, but it will
outperform a conventional expendable upper stage on a hypersonic
booster, even disregarding development costs, plus it scales to a
wider range of payloads.

The real point though, is that billion dollar reusable space booster
developments are just fantasy projects at this point. You might as
well posit that you will develop anti-gravity in your garage. If you
were to say something like "The next generation of space vehicles
will prove out an elastic market for space launch, at which point my
ten billion dollar project will look like a sure thing to the smart
money investors" it might be a little more credible, and only have
more standard business and technical arguments against it, instead of
being just nuts.

You fa:Il it (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15603409)

before playing to mod points and By simple fucking - Netcraft has more grandiose 'first polst' Java IRC client
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