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Unaffordable and Unsustainable, NASA’s failing Earth-to-orbit Transportation Strategy
Guest_DonPMitchell_*
post Jul 25 2006, 04:11 AM
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The Space Frontier Foundation has gotten a lot of attention from the mainstream press with their latest Whitepaper.

They advocate a more extensive support fo free enterprise and entrepreneurship in the American space program. They suggest that NASA should no longer be allowed to develop and own new launch vehicles, and that CEV and CLV development should be cancelled. They also advise that NASA rely on Altas 5 and Delta 4 rockets, and transfer more funding to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

I cannot find the actual white paper on the SFF website. I don't know if SFF is particularly professional (certainly their gaudy website doesn't look it), but I have to agree with some of their points.
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The Messenger
post Jul 25 2006, 01:54 PM
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QUOTE (DonPMitchell @ Jul 24 2006, 10:11 PM) *
They also advise that NASA rely on Altas 5 and Delta 4 rockets, and transfer more funding to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.

Both Lockhead and Boeing presented similar proposals before the CEV and the CLV concepts were developed. To support manned launches and heavy lifts, the Atlas and Delta teams envisioned lots of strap-on solids - strap-ons on strap-ons. The booster people walzed in and said you already have a man-rated heavy lift engine, so why re-invent the wheel?

As long as there is a mandate for a man-rated system, the CEV/CLV approach is reasonable, in my humble, biased opinion.
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David
post Jul 25 2006, 02:09 PM
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I have an uncomfortable feeling that the questions raised in this thread ultimately turn on political ideology, not on science or engineering.
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ugordan
post Jul 25 2006, 02:25 PM
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This topic definitely sounds like it belongs more to the Policy and Strategy forum down below.


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Bjorn Jonsson
post Jul 25 2006, 03:35 PM
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QUOTE (ugordan @ Jul 25 2006, 02:25 PM) *
This topic definitely sounds like it belongs more to the Policy and Strategy forum down below.

Correct - thread moved.
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Guest_DonPMitchell_*
post Jul 25 2006, 10:01 PM
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As policy, there is good reason to want private enterprise to develop technology rather than government agencies. Let me make an analogy:

The computer industry (my profession) is a good example of free enterprise. Innovation has not come from university professors or government agencies. It has come from unlikely sources of commercial activity that focused talent and resources. Computer games, for example, have been the most important driving force behind increased performance of central processors and graphics processors. But if you talked to most "computer scientists", they would be appalled by that notion, and most would have no knowledge whatsoever of computer games. However, everyone benefits from having faster processors and vector math and real-time graphics, whether they are playing a computer game or solving the partial differential equeations of global climate models.

Government burocracies spend resources incompetantly. Years ago, a project led by ITU to replace TCP/IP, was a spectacular and expensive failure. Academics and standards committees generated a series of protocols and formats so complex that when they were finally implemented, the resulting performance was completely unacceptible. TP4, their replacement for TCP, was so slow that it took longer to negotiate the transfer for a packet than TCP's default connection timeout. I'll let you speculate about what the opportunity cost was of delaying European and Japanese adoption of the internet by several years -- billions if not trillions of dollars, I reckon.

This is why economic conservatives want to see space exploration dominated by free enterprise, not by government burocracies and standards committees. At least NASA is required to take bids from mulitple competators, and businesses are free to buy launch services for multiple (even foreign) sources. But I think we have reached a point where the technology and industry is well enough developed to cut back on this kind of sheparding control.

Real talent goes where the action is. Gone are the days of the Apollo program, when NASA was a great adventure that drew in the finest minds of the nation to work on space. Today, those minds are at TRW and Boeing, or more likely, at Intel and Microsoft and Google. NASA and the ESA are not in the business of making bold, novel, and exciting decisions. And while they may waste enormous funds (with taxpayers' money), the do not make risky and adventerous financial moves in the way that a venture capitalist would.
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David
post Jul 26 2006, 12:13 AM
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QUOTE (DonPMitchell @ Jul 25 2006, 10:01 PM) *
As policy, there is good reason to want private enterprise to develop technology rather than government agencies.

I fail to see how prohibiting NASA from developing rocket technologies encourages corporations to do so. If they haven't done so on their own initiative so far -- not seeing any profit in it -- why would they start without NASA? Doubtless there is waste and inefficiency at NASA, but if you're talking about giving government dollars to corporations directly rather than through NASA, you're just moving the waste down the line into a place less susceptible to oversight.

If not, then what's missing from this rosy scenario is any explanation of how the corporations developing these rockets are going to turn a profit on them. You can't mass market "rocket games" to the public -- which is where Don's analogy falls down. Will they make a profit by selling them back to the United States? With a single customer, all the incentives are going to be not on creating competitive technologies but on political deals, lobbying, and padding the bills. By selling the public tickets to space? There's not enough money in that to turn a profit for years. By selling rockets to foreign governments? Those that are interested in a space program are running their own shows already. North Korea apparently could use a little help with its launch technology, but I don't really want to encourage them. ohmy.gif

Ultimately, I think both the lack of any immediate return on an extremely expensive investment, and possible security concerns, are going to keep control of launch technologies in government hands for most of the 21st century.
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Jim from NSF.com
post Jul 26 2006, 12:48 AM
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QUOTE (The Messenger @ Jul 25 2006, 09:54 AM) *
Both Lockhead and Boeing presented similar proposals before the CEV and the CLV concepts were developed. To support manned launches and heavy lifts, the Atlas and Delta teams envisioned lots of strap-on solids - strap-ons on strap-ons. The booster people walzed in and said you already have a man-rated heavy lift engine, so why re-invent the wheel?

As long as there is a mandate for a man-rated system, the CEV/CLV approach is reasonable, in my humble, biased opinion.


There are proposal from both LM and Boeing without strapons, that would be cheaper than the "stick" and would use existing infrastructure.

What is the difference between a strap on SRM and the Stick. They both are solids. The 5 segment solid is not yet manrated.
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The Messenger
post Jul 26 2006, 02:23 AM
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QUOTE (David @ Jul 25 2006, 06:13 PM) *
I fail to see how prohibiting NASA from developing rocket technologies encourages corporations to do so. If they haven't done so on their own initiative so far -- not seeing any profit in it -- why would they start without NASA? Doubtless there is waste and inefficiency at NASA, but if you're talking about giving government dollars to corporations directly rather than through NASA, you're just moving the waste down the line into a place less susceptible to oversight.

A better analogy might be the French and British investment in the SST. Billions of public dollars paid into a quasi-private corporation chartered to zip the very wealthy around the world...until a single blown tyre collapsed the enterprise.

Ronald Reagen threw the satelite communication industry to private industry, and they went overseas. If the U.S. really wants a world class rocket program, the country needs an aggressive R&D program...and a lot more engineering graduates.
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Guest_Richard Trigaux_*
post Jul 26 2006, 07:11 AM
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This discution about comparing the merits of free enterprise (US like) versus centralized administration (USSR like) is not just a bit political! I think it would be off-topic to go further in this direction, but I would add some bits of on-topic remarks.




What I basically think is that decisions must be taken by clever people with enough understanding of the problems and its implication in numerous fields (science, philosophy, technology, economy...). After, whatever the system in which these people operate, they will alway do better than people whose mind is bound to only one domain or one idea.
Why the USSR moon program failed? There was a story of a personal disagreement between the responsible of the rocket and the responsible of the engines... and a foolhardy pride-dominated attempt to fix a problem on a fueled rocket which resulted in a terrifying explosion and the loss of tens of highly valuable technicians and engineeers. Would such things be magically removed in a private enterprise? I don't think so, and we know too well how "some" private enterprise are skilfull into "public relations" in order to make forget the problems they create. I quote just one example among many other, because it was condemned by a tribunal: the professor Ragnar Rylander, who was paid for tens of years by tobacco compagnies to publish falsified science studies in order to deny the effects of passive smoking.
So peoples in the world will vote for right or left wings governments, allowing for more or less state centralism or private entrepreneurship, but if we keep the same guies taking the same decisions, the result will be the same.
What will probably happen, is that, if state agencies don't flush out all their clumsy ideologists, pride defenders and specialty bound thinkers, the decisions and responsabilities will more or less shift to private companies. But space is too large, and has too much implications, to be left completely out of control in the hands of just profit-seeking people.





About solid boosters, it seems that they are the most cost efficient to haul large charges to orbit. But they have an habit to explode at times... (probably because blocks of fuel are thrown through the nozzle)development work should focuse here. And also the space shuttle boosters should be welded...


Messenger, about the SST (Concorde plane) the failure did not came just from a tyre. It was complete far before. The affair went as follow:
-after world war II, the french aircraft manufacturers were several small companies, but this was enough for the small planes of this epoch. Some good planes were produced, with a bit of commercial success, regarding the small market at this epoch. At the same time, USA was producing DC3 at best.
-when came the time to launch large airliners, the french aircraft industry concentrated in two large companies, one producing the Caravelle, which was a good plane for its epoch, and a large commercial success in front of the US Boeing and others.
-encouraged by this success, the airplane industry concentrated still more, to pass to what seemed the next logical step: supersonic. At this time everybody was seeing this as the best thing to do, all the scifi thinkers, bold scientistists and many "forward looking" politicians, none of them suspecting what would happen.
-The supersonic plane Concorde was a tremendous technical success, but a commercial waste. This came from the fact that companies were not interested in a plane which was simply much costy to operate, and passengers were not interested in a double ticket just to earn three hours. And the increase of fuel price will not revert this tendency for long, unless some unforeseeable discovery.
-From this, the french aircraft industry did what was the best thing to do: to swallow their pride. This allowed them to think without inhibition, and resulted into taking the right decision: make a technically good aircraft, but heeding at the demands of companies. So the aircraft industry went at european scale, doing a relable, comfortable, heavy lifter and fuel efficient plane: the Airbus, which is now a tremendous success, both technical and economical, even challenging the US industry, a thing nobody expected at the beginning. (I remember when working on the airbus in the 1970', the first planners allowed only two digits for the serial numbers...)
-the story of the tyre (remember that the incident started from an US plane ohmy.gif !!!) just revealed a profound design mistake (the air inlets could swallow exploding tyres bits) which ended the life of an aircraft which had no real life. (To be honest, should such a mistake be discovered on the Airbus, it would arise a much more serious concern).
-in all this story, most decisions, good or bad, were in fact state-led (french, then european) but implemented by private companies which were expected to be making profits, but with a waranty by state funding.
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ugordan
post Jul 26 2006, 08:47 AM
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QUOTE (Richard Trigaux @ Jul 26 2006, 08:11 AM) *
About solid boosters, it seems that they are the most cost efficient to haul large charges to orbit.

Actually, they're not. They might be more cost-efficient for small payloads, but not for large ones. While they can provide high thrust at liftoff, they have an inferior specific impulse compared to liquid fuels. That's the reason they are used to get things off the ground, while the vehicle is still too heavy for the main engines to cope with alone. They don't, however, provide the majority of energy required to reach orbit. Space shuttle boosters for example provide a large fraction of total liftoff thrust, yet they give the vehicle only a small amount of total energy (what was it? 10-15% ?). Their advantage over liquid fuels is their comparable simplicity. The disadvantage is they provide for a pretty bumpy ride. Also, once ignited they cannot be shut down.

Solid boosters are favored by U.S. vehicles probably because they have a long development history (the fuel of choice for ICBM launchers). The Russians, on the other hand, lacked the expertise in developing large solid boosters. As a consequence, their launch vehicles use liquid fuel boosters. Compare Energiya to the Space Shuttle -- 4 Zenit kerosene powered strap-on boosters compared to 2 SRBs on the shuttle.


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Guest_Richard Trigaux_*
post Jul 26 2006, 09:18 AM
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Thanks you ugordan for your informations.

Actualy France and Europe have too an experience in solid boosters. The first french rockets lauched from Sahara all were solid. Liquid rockets like Diamant were considered only when developing a vehicule able to reach orbit.

Now Ariane IV and V have solid strap-on boosters, and the ones of Ariane V are about the size of the shuttle's. They seem to perform well.
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Guest_DonPMitchell_*
post Jul 26 2006, 09:25 AM
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Increasing the role of private industry in space is a serious policy issue in America. The parable of the computer industry was meant to point out that free enterprise has a good track record for taking technology in new, important, and unexpected directions. Your nVidia graphics card was not designed by a CCITT committee.

The American space program is already largely privately owned. Even the most secret military space technology is researched and developed by private companies like TRW or Hugues. NASA is largely out of the loop today on commercial satellites, where the US has a huge number of successful ventures -- Boeing, SES Americom, Lockheed Martin, PanAmSat, Loral, Northrop Grumman, DirectTV, Hughes Network Systems, Ball Aerospace, etc. Launch services are privately owned -- Lockheed's Atlas, Boeing's Delta, and hopefully Orbital and SpaceX will be successful too, as well as joint ventures with Russia (ILS/Proton) and the Ukraine (Sea Launch/Zenit). There are at least three American companies making a go of satellite imaging and Earth resources -- DigitalGlobe, Orbimage, Space Imaging.

So, the question being raised is, will manned spaceflight and space stations follow in this path? I don't think that is a ridiculous idea.
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Guest_Richard Trigaux_*
post Jul 26 2006, 11:04 AM
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DonPMitchell, I basically don't agree with your stance, for political/philosophical reasons (but again I don't try to launch the discution that way). But I however must recognize the value of much of your arguments: people do better when they are free.

Not because they would be better, but because there is a kind of "darwinian natural selection" which operates in this case. People with good ideas have success, and people with bad ideas remain ignored.


The problem of rigid administration is however not only in the US, in my country France there are too administrations which only purpose seems to block any innovation. For instance look at tremendous things such as eBay (internet site for selling things among private persons) or Meetic (Adds to encounter peoples, hopefully not just for bed). They are tremendous success stories of private enterprises. Think that I had the idea to build such a service in... 1985. But what happened?
1) banks refused me any loan, unless I had some "caution" (the french name for somebody being able to repay all my loan, in case of a failure of my business!!!)
2) at this epoch there was not yet the Internet, but the Minitel, something much simpler allowing to display texts and rough graphics in 16 colors. They even distributed the terminals for free, but the connection cost was so hight that only some porn sites or administration sites could survive, and some tens of newspapers or association sites. They invented the Internet, but rebuffed the users!

Think that, if they had let me do, I would probably be now in a situation similar to Elon Musk, who made a fortune with the Internet service Paypal, and is now creating his company Spacex, building his own private rockets. Certainly he did not started with courses for unemployed persons to learn how to set their tie to positively impress employers.
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Guest_DonPMitchell_*
post Jul 26 2006, 05:43 PM
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Well, I did not so much intend to compare socialism to capitalism. I think the issue is government control vs. private enterprise. From my own experiences in industry, I don't believe private enterprise is simply people thinking about profit, nor do I believe that burocrats and intellectuals are totally selfless in their motivations.

Messenger brought up the issue of future engineers to maintain a "world class rocket program". That's another thing that concerns many people. James Oberg has asserted that Russia is in trouble because its rocket expertise consists mostly of old men, with no young people taking their place. Oberg is something of a Russian-basher, so I don't know if his assertion is true. Similar concerns are expressed about American engineering, although a recent Duke University Study suggests that when you count real engineers, the US is not falling behind.

Right now, I believe the USA still leads in rocket technology. Initially, a lot of the R&D behind that was from Von Braun's group, but today the research for new rockets is being done privately by Boeing and Lockheed and a few other companies, not by NASA as such. And I think the Atlas V and Delta IV are excellent results. Russia still has major expertise, especially in rocket engine design (the Atlas V engines are Russian!), but I'd like to see Russia proceed with new vehicle designs like the Angora. A lot of new rocket programs like China's Long March series are not very innovative (non-cryogenic fuel, gas-generator-cycle engines).

As I said, I think people go where the action is, and this is the "computer age", not the "space age". I personally left the space program to do computer research, when I was a graduate student. Perhaps a private space station that was open to the public could fire the imagination of some talented young people and encourage more to consider aerospace engineering as a career. But for that to be a good career path for young people, space exploration has to be a growing concern!
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