Change is Coming to NASA Space Launch

by Space Frontier Foundation on March 19, 2010

Change is coming to the US space program. At last! Real, dramatic and tangible change in both its effect and the course it will create in this nation’s future in space.

It is long past time for us to try something different, as what we have been doing in our human space program since Apollo has been a failure of epic proportions. And yet, some defend the status quo and are actually angry about the coming changes proposed by the Obama Administration. I find this amazing given the space agency’s track record over the last few decades. But then, if nothing else, our past experience with the government building and operating space launches has shown that to many, simply flying some stuff around in circles and creating jobs that do nothing to advance us in any direction is more important than succeeding in getting anywhere – so long as everyone agrees in the myth that they are going somewhere.

It is heretical to say it in many quarters, but unlike its astronomy and robotic exploration programs, the current NASA operated human spaceflight program has failed by any rational measure in almost every respect to achieve Any of the milestones put forth by those who sold them to the American people so long ago. The most glaring example of this failure to deliver in the area of transportation is totally unknown to the taxpaying public and often overlooked by the defenders of the old ways: The space shuttle system, glorious and impressive symbol of the space agency for so long is a complete failure when measured against its promised performance. Sold in the 1970s as being able to fly once a week and bring costs down to tens of dollars a pound, they have averaged around 5 flights a year…on good years. In the meantime NASA has tried and failed time after time to develop new space transportation systems, including the much heralded and disastrous X-33, which after a billion dollars of taxpayer funding was canceled, never to have even rolled out of the hangar.

The background of repeated failures by the government to build and operate its own Earth to LEO launch systems is what we must keep in mind when we judge the new commercial Earth to LEO space transportation plans being put forth by the White House and NASA. Frankly, as a long time skeptic regarding anything the NASA press office puts out when it comes to human spaceflight, I am not only impressed by the plan to hand over this role to commercial space firms, but am willing to allow myself just a hint of hope that if it can be successfully implemented (freeing the agency to pursue real space exploration) We may at last break out of the circular self gratification of our current space program and go somewhere – and more importantly be able to go there again and again and even stay if we want to (the key word being “we” as in not just NASA employees, but eventually the rest of us too!).

And yes, to do this NASA will have to make changes. Rather than seeing itself as the emperor of all things space, it will have to change how it views the zone from the Earth’s surface to LEO. The agency simply cannot get it right when it comes to trying to build its own launch systems in any economic sense, and it is time it stopped trying. The agency will have to step aside in this area that it long ago pioneered. It will no longer be its own trucking service for small package delivery to space. It will have to relinquish its role as its own taxi service to LEO and leave the driving to someone else. Instead this job will be given to privately funded New Space firms across the nation that are working on a variety of rocketships that could catapult us into the space frontier and global space leadership at a fraction of the cost of any new NASA system.

For example, California’s SPACEX from its creation through its first successful orbital flights and all the industrial tooling and facilities to support them spent far less than the $445 million NASA did on its recent smoke and mirrors alleged test flight of an Ares 1-X mock up to only 50k feet higher altitude than that achieved by parachutist Joe Kittinger in 1960. To get all the way to being able to carry humans in its Dragon capsule on its Falcon 9 will cost only a fraction of the projected cost of the Ares and Orion system – and almost more importantly, when not in use by NASA it will be used by commercial companies to carry their own payloads and customers into space. Orbital Sciences using its Taurus vehicle is in a similar position and projects similar cost savings over the as yet paper lion of Ares Orion.

Even if one isn’t willing to bet on NewSpace firms some of our largest traditional firms are moving ahead with plans to adapt their tried and true systems to carry payloads and people into orbit to serve commercial customers and even the ISS. For example, the Atlas V has flown some 20 times and Delta IV more than 10 which is about 20 times and 10 times more than Ares and the Boeing/Bigelow Crew Capsule now in development will cost a fraction of that needed for Orion and be usable by both the government and commercial customers. From now on, in a very real sense, NASA’s exploration job will no longer start at the launch pad, but begin in space itself.

But none of this will happen if NASA tries to manage these new players in its old way. NASA must change not just what it does and where it does it, but how it does what it does, and how it works with others that are doing the jobs it needs done. Agency managers will have to learn new ways of contracting that are based not on how much work is done on a project, but how much that work produces. Like the rest of us, as a customer it can no longer rationalize spending huge amounts of money paying for a failed effort to deliver a package to a destination, but only for success. Yes, the agency will need to set standards for the transportation of its employees to and from space, but these should not and cannot be any more stringent than those they set for let’s say their astronauts who fly in F-16s. And it will have to actually relinquish control over some other areas of space operations that have become somewhat mundane in return for being able to focus on what many used to see as its main mission – exploration, science and technology development.

Unfortunately, no matter how good (normal) all of this sounds to normal people who live in a free enterprise society, in the visionless and ironic land of old school government aerospace the pork must keep flowing and tradition will  fight innovation. The forces of darkness are already moving to crush the revolution right now, as those who do not understand the enormity of the promise in this change in Congress ally with those who do and want it stopped regardless, all well armed by those who have fed off the system for so long they forgot NASA’s job is exploring space and not the national wallet for their own ends.

And so the battle is joined. And in yet another dose of irony, many of us who for so long have been seen as the foes of the agency as we have fought for common sense will now be standing shoulder to shoulder with its new leaders. About time I say, as I have never enjoyed having to take on my childhood icon time after time as it has meandered far from the dream of exploring and opening space. And although I know this may be a brief moment in time, I take my hat (space helmet?) off to those who are working on the inside to make this happen, and pledge my keyboard to their defence in the coming months. I only hope they are willing to stand their ground as well, as the stakes are greater than simply who gets what contract for how much. What is at stake is the future of this nation in space and just how soon and how well that future is realized.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

banner2
   The House subcommittee on space held a hearing to discuss issues with the ASTEROIDS ACT. Joanne Gabrynowicz, the former Editor-in-chief for the Journal of Space Law, warned the subcommittee that the bill needs to clarify some terms, and suggested that an interagency mechanism should be set up to handle policy development.
SpacePolicyOnline
   The House vote on the Continuing Resolution (CR) was delayed to allow the House leadership to handle a request from the White House. The CR proposes to keep current government funding levels through. The CR is required to stop a government shutdown on October 1st.
SpacePolicyOnline

“Focused on Settlement Policy for the NewSpace Citizens of the

Universe.”Newsletter Editors:

Joshua Jenkins

Andrew Newman

Contact us at:

joshua.jenkins@spacefrontier.org

andrew.newman@spacefrontier.org

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

NASA Selects Commercial Crew Winners – Foundation Dreams are Becoming America’s Space Vehicles!

September 17, 2014

NASA Selects Commercial Crew Winners – Foundation Dreams are Becoming America’s Space Vehicles! 20 Year Battle to Secure Commercial Transport to ISS Results in Boeing and SpaceX Contracts   (Kennedy Space Center, FL)  The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) congratulated Boeing and SpaceX on their selection as the next U.S. human spaceflight providers, and declared victory […]

Read the full article →

Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) Commercialization Workshop

September 2, 2014

Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) Commercialization Workshop Co-hosted by Space Frontier Foundation and FAA/AST 15 September, 2014 (Conveniently timed the day before COMSTAC meetings) WORKSHOP OBJECTIVE The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF), in partnership with the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, is hosting a workshop to collect data and conduct analysis on issues related to the transition strategy […]

Read the full article →

Capitol Hill Policy Update for August 18th through September 1st, 2014

September 1, 2014

August 18th through September 1st, 2014   NASA to Choose CCiCap Award Winners in Late August or Early September    Out of the four companies competing for the multibillion-dollar Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program, Boeing Co. is the only one to have completed key reviews of their design. The other competitors Space Exploration Technologies and […]

Read the full article →

Capitol Hill Policy Update for August 4th through August 17th, 2014

August 24, 2014

August 4th through August 17th, 2014   Greetings!   This newsletter marks the policy newsletter switching to once every two weeks, instead of the previous weekly schedule. We will occasionally send out a newsletter during the off week if we believe there is a surge of noteworthy policy updates. Many of these newsletters have not been […]

Read the full article →

Capitol Hill Policy Update for July 7th through July 13th, 2014

August 24, 2014

July 7th through July 13th, 2014    ULA joins the Air Force’s call to dismiss SpaceX lawsuit Last week the Air Force called for the Federal Claims Court to dismiss the SpaceX lawsuit involving the block buy contract. This week, United Launch Alliance joined the Air Force in calling for the dismissal of the lawsuit. The […]

Read the full article →

Capitol Hill Policy Update for June 23rd through June 29th, 2014

August 24, 2014

June 23rd through June 29th, 2014   House hearing on NRC’s report about human spaceflight The National Research Council recently released a report on human spaceflight. The hearing discussed the report’s doubts in NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) along with NASA’s need for cross-administration commitment. SpaceX to change lawsuit against Air Force SpaceX filed to […]

Read the full article →

CubeCab wins 2014 Lightning Pitch Competition and $20,000 Grand Prize

July 28, 2014

Cubecab has won first place and $20,000 in the 2014 NewSpace Lightning Pitch Competition!  The award was presented on Thursday by competition Project Manager, Tom Olson and by Jim Armor, VP, Strategy and Business Development, representing ATK, a long-time NewSpace BPC sponsor. The NewSpace Business Plan Competition, in collaboration with its sponsors  (ATK,  Heinlein Prize Trust and the Space Frontier Foundation) are excited […]

Read the full article →

Space Frontier Foundation Endorses Integrated Space Plan 2.0, Calls for a United Path to Settlement

July 21, 2014

Space Frontier Foundation Endorses Integrated Space Plan 2.0, Calls for a United Path to Settlement All Supporters of a United Path to Settlement are Encouraged to Show Support   This morning, I wrote the following letter of endorsement for a Kickstarter campaign (my first!). I would like to encourage you to review the letter and […]

Read the full article →

Register for NewSpace 2014 before the rates go up

July 10, 2014

Register for NewSpace 2014 before the rates go up Silicon Valley, CA – Registration for the NewSpace 2014 Conference closes soon and onsite prices for all packages will increase so register today to save! If you are an entrepreneur, investor, industry leader, student or a young professional, bring your ventures to NewSpace 2014 and participate in […]

Read the full article →