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Better, Faster, Cheaper, Discuss.....
lyford
post Jul 18 2005, 09:39 PM
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Can one paraphrase the quip about the "Holy Roman Empire" being neither holy, Roman nor an empire regarding this plan?

The idea, if I understood correctly, was this: By designing cheaper missions, NASA could launch more, and afford to lose a few more. The BIG MISSIONS were too expensive and put all the eggs in one basket. Why take a chance on any single failure points that could risk a program after bagillions of dollars were spent, such as Galileo's hi gain antenna?

Was this strategy successful?

To this outsider, it appeared that Dan Goldin drank too much of the 90's cyber-revolution kool aid and got swept up with the "irrational exuberance" of the dot.com boom. Everything will be possible and cheap in the digital age! Moore's Law notwithstanding, hi tech is only one piece of the puzzle when pulling off a successful interplanetary mission.

My opinion is that there is a baseline cost of doing business in space, even if sensors get smaller and cheaper, due to human support, testing, launch costs, etc. Even the "tech" components all have to be space rated, which is not the kind of consumer level mass production ultra cheap type tech with which most people are familiar. (I have had more than one conversation about why JPL couldn't have had bolted a cheap color digital camera on MER.....)

While adopting this plan may have allowed some missions that might not have seen the light of day before, each little failure seemed to hit NASA with more bad PR than the little successes could offset....

SO -

"Better Faster Cheaper : Golden Egg or Goldin's Goose?"

I would value all opinions, especially from those inside the org, natch.


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dvandorn
post Jul 19 2005, 06:43 AM
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The problem is that FBC broke down well-funded multi-billion dollar missions into several quarter-billion-dollar missions. And while it may seem to be less of a PR disaster to lose a quarter-billion-dollar mission than a three-billion-dollar mission, people don't have long memories. And losing a quarter of a billion dollars worth of planetary probe sticks in the public's craw as a waste of money, regardless of the fact that the money has paid for continuing growth and expertise within the aerospace community, and is mostly spent back into the economy by the engineers, workmen and companies involved in the project.

The MERs are a good example of a mission that was well-enough funded but mounted just a little *too* fast. Most of those involved in the design, testing and fabrication of the MERs and their various systems have gone on record saying that they worked themselves into the ground getting ready for the launch date, and really could have used another year to prepare. Steve Squyres said outright that one of the most important lessons learned was that, even though they were lucky and no major problems surfaced during the flight, the MER development schedule should *not* be taken as a baseline for planning future missions.

-the other Doug


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edstrick
post Jul 19 2005, 08:59 AM
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The MER missions were clearly done on a compressed time schedule. A year more certainly would have helped,

But the general consensus is that they had good management structure, with more cross-communication, having learned from the disasters of 1999's management breakdowns. And when there were problems to be solved, generally, it seems enough $ and People were put on them.

There is a "U" shaped curve to mission costs and to some extent risks. There's a fairly flat bottom to the curve. You can stretch out a project some beyond "optimal" to fit resources, avoid a spending peak above some limit. You can compress a project like MER to fit a tight schedule. In both cases you raise cost some, and increase risk on the compressed schedule.

But when you overly compress a project into a "crash" program, you start doing things like throwing money at several alternative solutions to problems, hoping one will work, and start cutting corners on design, testing, etc. When you overly extend a project, you tend to get other failures.... endless cost creep from just keeping the program alive... people leaving project in mid term, bureaucracy bloat.. whatever. Risks rise lower than costs, but both go up.

MER was just on the "short" edge of the "U" shaped curve. It was a bold, risky move, but in the end worth it. But we should still have not chickened out and refused to fly the Surveyor 01 lander. There has *NEVER* been an honest accounting from NASA HQ on the cancelling of the built and in-tests 01 lander mission. Excuses, yes, but not the real reasons.
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Jeff7
post Jul 19 2005, 12:01 PM
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What about launch windows? Had the MER team not made the designated launch date, might it have been a good deal longer until they had another good shot at a launch date? Due to the positions of the planets I mean.


QUOTE
Why take a chance on any single failure points that could risk a program after bagillions of dollars were spent, such as Galileo's hi gain antenna?


Galileo's antenna - I recall that someone mentioned that the probe was trucked across the country a few times? Or something to that effect - that it endured a lot more handling than it should have, and that that might have screwed up that antenna.
Single failures - heck, the MER's had loads of those. Retro-rocket failure - entire thing smashes into the ground. Airbag failure - crunch. Lander fails to open - MER remains trapped in its protective case. Solar panels fail to unfold - MER has no power. Pyros fail to blow - MER remains stuck to the lander.

Any number of those things would have meant either total or partial loss of the rovers.


At any rate, there'll always be a fine line between overfunded and underfunded. Those in charge want the mission to work, and be done fast so that it looks good on their record. Those working on it want job security - a drawn-out time allotment, and a bloated budget can make for a really cushy job.
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lyford
post Jul 19 2005, 02:44 PM
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QUOTE (Jeff7 @ Jul 19 2005, 04:01 AM)
Galileo's antenna - I recall that someone mentioned that the probe was trucked across the country a few times? Or something to that effect - that it endured a lot more handling than it should have, and that that might have screwed up that antenna.

You are of course correct, on this. So in a way the shuttle disaster may have contributed to this failure....Goldin's point was that given the nature of these things, it would be bettter to have millions on the line instead of billions.
But what I was trying to say above is that management and human and design costs don't follow Moore's law - the technological abilities may improve, but there is a project threshold at which one is just increasing the risk by lowering the budget.
MER to me is a good example of something almost right in the sweet spot. From what I have heard, the schedule has been more than grueling and almost put the program in jeapordy IIRC regarding the airbags. I have a memory of Pete Theisinger saying NO emphatically if he would do it this way again, sucess notwithstanding.
Still, MER was cheap - for the cost of a couple 747s we have been on Mars for over 1000 sols! (collectively) tongue.gif
And good thoughts, edstrick and dvandorn - more later!


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tty
post Jul 19 2005, 05:39 PM
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QUOTE (Jeff7 @ Jul 19 2005, 02:01 PM)
Galileo's antenna - I recall that someone mentioned that the probe was trucked across the country a few times? Or something to that effect - that it endured a lot more handling than it should have, and that that might have screwed up that antenna.
*


Indeed. In the aerospace world we have something called "Storage maintenance" or "shelf life" which means that after a piece of equipment (or an aircraft) has been on the shelf for a certain time even if storage conditions are optimal it has to be maintained before it can be used. Typical deteriorative items being lubricants, elastomers (rubber and plastic), textiles, batteries and (mechanical) gyroscopes. In Galileo's case I seem to remember that a prime suspect for the stuck antenna was insufficient lubrication. Just the sort thing I would expect to happen after a long storage period and repeated handling, and something that really should have been checked before launch.
Incidentally getting a military aircraft back into service after a few years in storage is usually at least as complicated and expensive as the overhaul it would require after a similar period in service.

tty
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peter59
post Oct 19 2005, 06:58 PM
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The era of Titan rockets has ended. It's very sad day.
Nine years to Ceres, five years to Vesta, seven years
to Mercury, it is not faster. Cheaper ? Maybe, I am
not sure.


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mchan
post Oct 20 2005, 03:25 AM
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QUOTE (peter59 @ Oct 19 2005, 11:58 AM)
The era of Titan rockets has ended. It's very sad day.
Nine years to Ceres, five years to Vesta, seven years
to Mercury, it is not faster.  Cheaper ? Maybe, I am
not sure.
*


Dawn and Messenger are definitely cheaper than if their missions were designed around using a Titan 4B to get the same payload mass to their destinations faster. The difference between a Delta 2 Heavy and a Titan is at least $300 million which is much more than the cost of several years of cruise operations.

Even with a Titan, I don't know if a Vesta and Ceres rendezvous can be done on a single mission without using ion propulsion. And it is the nature of ion propulsion "spiral out" trajectories that are slow. Transit time can be reduced by adding more ion propulsion units and increasing fuel mass, but that does not require the big jump in injection energy from a Delta to a Titan.

Messenger would have gotten to Mercury two years earlier had it been able to make its earlier launch period (by a few months).

Titan was an very expensive launcher especially compared to a Proton or even an Ariane 5. I recall one comment that Titan was unique among expendable launchers in that the later vehicles to come off the assembly line were more expensive than the preceding vehichles due to changes required to support newer and different payloads. The way of Titan launches has passed, probably none too soon.

Titan has a proud history. I almost drove the 6 hours to watch the final launch from the public viewing site on base, but the weather forecast was for low clouds which would have blocked the view. It turned out to be clear skies and a beautiful launch.
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Guest_Richard Trigaux_*
post Oct 20 2005, 01:50 PM
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The size of the rocket makes much: the strongest the launch energy, the shortest the travel. And long travels are like shelf life: the risk for a failure increases with travel time. (although usually big failures appear during manoeuvers or landings).

Another inconvenience of long travels is that when the target is reached, it is observed with an outdated technology. When Pluto will be observed in 2018-20 by New Horizons, it will be with the year 1995 technologies (even not with 2005 technologies, which are not yet tested for space operation).

So I think powerful rockets are important. In a space mission, it is not the fuel which adds cost.

But large rockets are much more expensive than small ones, even if the basic cost (electronics, gyros, etc.) is the same than for small rockets. Perhaps there may exist means to make large rockets at lower prices.

Perhaps if some US long-range mission were launched with an Ariane or a Proton rocket, they would perform better. This may be possible, as cold war is finished.
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dvandorn
post Oct 20 2005, 02:34 PM
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Unfortunately, Richard, the American Congress passed the Iran Non-Proliferation Act a few years ago, which stipulates that the U.S. government cannot do business with any country that provides Iran with technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. And since Russia has sold technology to Iran for building nuclear power plants (and that can be adapted for building nuclear weapons), the U.S. will not pay Russia for launch vehicles. (This, by the way, has made ISS operations very difficult -- the U.S. can't pay for Russian services with money, so they pay by giving up crew slots, experiment time, etc., on board the station.)

NASA's new administrator, Mike Griffin, has argued in front of Congress that the law has not changed Russian policy and has hurt the cause of American-Russian space co-operation. He has asked for the law to be amended, if only to exempt purchases related to space co-operation. Has anyone heard whether or not the Congress has passed such an exemption? It seemed to be accepted well in the committee where Griffin presented it...

Anyway, until such an exemption is passed, it's literally illegal for NASA to purchase launch services of any kind from Russia.

-the other Doug


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RNeuhaus
post Oct 20 2005, 03:05 PM
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Hope that rocket price would drop when there is more cooperation between many nations which are capable to send playload to the space. The last news that the Shenzhou-6 project costed US$ 111 millions and I would imagine that the price of their rocket UMHM is around $US 20 millions dollars (just only my guess).

Rodolfo
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dvandorn
post Oct 20 2005, 03:45 PM
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I imagine that $111 million figure is for the cost of flying Shenzhou VI only. It's not the cost of the entire Shenzhou program.

About how much did it cost to fly a single Gemini mission (to which the Chinese flight is comparable)? In today's dollars, of course. I bet the costs are similar...

As a comparison, it cost about a quarter of a billion dollars, in 1969 dollars, to fly a single Apollo lunar landing mission. Those were a lot more complex, and used more resources, than a simple two-guys-in-orbit-for-four-days kind of flight, of course.

-the other Doug


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RNeuhaus
post Oct 20 2005, 03:57 PM
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Shenzhou 6 Tab: US$111m

Beijing (XNA) Oct 18, 2005
China has spent 900 million yuan (US$111.2 million) on its successful second manned space mission and has great interest in launching commercial satellites for global clients, a senior official said.


The cost is not only for flying Shenzhou but for mission that is something more

http://www.spacedaily.com/news/china-05zzzzzzzzzp.html

I agree that its cost is comparetively similar to the Gemini's missions. However, I am starting to learn about the prices of rockets and probes so now I am still naive of this matter. Not yet I have a good judgment for this kind of comparision. Anyway, the prices is coming down with the new rocket enterprises likes ones of Falcon which is offering very attractive prices but with much higher risks since this still has no launching history.

Rodolfo
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mchan
post Oct 21 2005, 05:59 AM
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QUOTE (Richard Trigaux @ Oct 20 2005, 06:50 AM)
The size of the rocket makes much: the strongest the launch energy, the shortest the travel.  And long travels are like shelf life: the risk for a failure increases with travel time. (although usually big failures appear during manoeuvers or landings).

Another inconvenience of long travels is that when the target is reached, it is observed with an outdated technology. When Pluto will be observed in 2018-20 by New Horizons, it will be with the year 1995 technologies (even not with 2005 technologies, which are not yet tested for space operation).

So I think powerful rockets are important. In a space mission, it is not the fuel which adds cost.

But large rockets are much more expensive than small ones, even if the basic cost (electronics, gyros, etc.) is the same than for small rockets. Perhaps there may exist means to make large rockets at lower prices.

Perhaps if some US long-range mission were launched with an Ariane or a Proton rocket, they would perform better. This may be possible, as cold war is finished.
*


Spacecraft systems have a high degree of fault tolerance and recovery so while the number of failures increases over time assuming integration of a constant error rate, most failures are recovered from so mission capabilities may degrade but not end abruptly. Long flight times thru space is not a great inhibitor to mission success or operations cost if dormat cruise modes are used, e.g., Rosetta.

As for technology becoming outdated, the important thing to consider is the science return for money spent. If you had a bigger rocket that could get the same technology science instruments to the destination several years faster, but cost much more than the several years of operations cost, imho you would not be able to get the space agency to give you the extra funds. Conversely, if you wait several years for the technology improvements before launching on a bigger (more expensive) rocket, imho you would not be able to get your project started.

The cost of fuel is currently low compared to the cost of the bigger rocket required to launch the additional fuel.

Lowering the cost of space access continues to be a big topic of debate in other forums. One side follows current space agency approaches, the other side proposes alternatives for lower cost, e.g., some of the arguments are collected at

http://www.space-access.org
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Guest_Richard Trigaux_*
post Oct 21 2005, 07:54 AM
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QUOTE (dvandorn @ Oct 20 2005, 02:34 PM)
Unfortunately, Richard, the American Congress passed the Iran Non-Proliferation Act a few years ago, which stipulates that the U.S. government cannot do business with any country that provides Iran with technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. 
-the other Doug
*


Yes, unfortunately... very unfortunately.

Discussing politics is not really on topic here, but when politics invites itself into the topic... There was another interference of this kind, noticed somewhere else in this forum, about an European Mars lander, where the US refused to provide atmospheric entry systems, as such systems could be used for nuclear missiles.

With my opinion, we should first manage our planet properly, before launching projects of space colonisation of the like. It is quite clear that, given the costs and stakes, any large achievement in space can be only international. There are large concerns about only one country (even friendly democratic and all) having a commanding situation or monopoly on space.

I do not want to launch a discution about Iran, but, you know, they are today between the hammer and the anvil, deemed a rogue state, I wonder if it is really the best method if we want to make them understand more human rights. (the outcome of their latest presidential election should have make us understand this). Off topic, off topic... but this kind of problems have to be solved before we become really a space civilization.
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