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.

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for April 13th to April 27th

by Joshua Jenkins on April 27, 2015

Space Policy Update: Issue #18

April 27th, 2015

At the 31st Space Symposium, Lt. Gen. Raymond, commander of Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Space, expressed worry over some recent launches by Russia and China. U.S. officials claim the Chinese launched an anti-satellite missile, which could threaten American satellites. The Foundation believes that establishing a program to quickly achieve “cheap access tospace” (CATS) could mitigate this risk.

NASA Delays Awarding Next Commercial Cargo Contracts

NASA was set to award the next contracts for resupplying the ISS in June, but has pushed back the award date to September 16th. NASA has stated the delay is “due to additional time required to evaluate proposals.” NASA is expected to award multiple contracts, each with a minimum of six flights. At least five companies are competing for the contracts.

In mid-April, NASA Administrator Bolden testified before the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sen. Shelby (R-AL) was interested about funding cuts to the Space Launch System. Bolden claimed that the funding requested was enough to continue to meet the milestones on time. Bolden also urged the subcommittee to confirm Dr. Dava Newman as NASA Deputy Administrator.

 

A House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee has added language to a proposed bill that specifies that ULA can use all RD-180 engines that had a firm contract by Feb 1, 2014. The clarification “could make more RD-180s available for [upcoming military launch competitions].”

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 “Focused on Settlement Policy for the NewSpace Citizens of the Universe.”

 

Newsletter Editors:

Joshua Jenkins

Andrew Newman

Calvin Baker

Contact us at:

joshua.jenkins@spacefrontier.org

andrew.newman@spacefrontier.org

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for March 30th to April 13th

April 19, 2015

Space Policy Update: Issue #17 April 13th, 2015 Asteroid Redirect Redirected to Mars   NASA Advisory Council Finds NASA Should Go to Mars Instead of Asteroids. The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) “unanimously adopted a finding that” NASA should replace the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) with a mission to go to Mars instead. The finding is not a recommendation, […]

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Action Alert – Support the Space Exploration, Development and Settlement Act

April 14, 2015

Action Alert – Support the Space Exploration, Development and Settlement Act Help Make Space Settlement a Core Part of NASA’s Mission   To our friends and advocates: This is an action request, we need your help! The Space Exploration, Development and Settlement (SEDS) Act is about to be introduced in Congress. The purpose of the […]

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for March 17th to March 30th

March 31, 2015

Space Policy Update: Issue #16 March 30, 2015 Russia Extends ISS Stay to 2024   Russia recently announced they would be extending their support of the ISS from 2020 to 2024. They also announced interest to work with NASA on the space station after ISS. Over the past week there have been many articles that […]

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for March 2nd to March 17th

March 19, 2015

Space Policy Update: Issue #15                                                                                         March 17, 2015 Barbara Mikulski Announces […]

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Space Frontier Foundation Endorses Zero Gravity Cocktail Project

March 11, 2015

Space Frontier Foundation Endorses Zero Gravity Cocktail Project All Supporters of Space Settlement are Encouraged to Show Support   Fellow Space Frontier Foundation Supporters, I would like to introduce and ask for your support for an aspiring Kickstarter project that tests a new way for drinking liquids in space: the “Zero Gravity Cocktail Project.” They […]

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NewSpace News #118 – March 2015

March 4, 2015

Dragon Has Landed  SpaceX’s 5th Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-5) has successfully concluded with thesplashdown of the Dragon capsule on February 10. The vehicle has returned with about two tons of cargo and scientific samples, including some of the first 3D-printed in space, courtesy of Made In Space. Within 24 hours, SpaceX was ready to […]

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Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Public-Private Partnerships in Aerospace

March 3, 2015

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Public-Private Partnerships in Aerospace Space Frontier Foundation Calls For NASA to Return to its Roots, and Propel the Space Industry Forward   Silicon Valley, CA – The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) would like to congratulate NASA today on celebrating its Centennial Anniversary of its predecessor the National Advisory Committee for […]

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for February 16th to March 2nd

March 2, 2015

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) speaks at the press release for the announcement of the Alliance. Alliance for Space Development Forms The Alliance for Space Development was announced last week with the objective to advance the development and settlement of space by reducing costs and increasing benefits to enable self-sustaining growth. Notable organizations part of the […]

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Historic Consensus Achieved at Pioneering Space Summit 2015

February 23, 2015

Historic Consensus Achieved at Pioneering Space Summit 2015 Space Industry Representatives Agree Space Settlement Is Our Inevitable Future   Washington, D.C. – Last week a diverse group of over 100 space leaders from academia, government and industry came together at the Pioneering Space National Summit in Washington, D.C. and moved beyond the endless debates about destinations and launch vehicles […]

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