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posted by cmn32480 on Monday July 25 2016, @11:47PM   Printer-friendly
from the cheaper-is-not-better dept.

From the (Kansas City) Daily Star Albany :

Recent moves in Congress to restrict the use of Russian rocket engines on national security missions sparked a revolution in the U.S. commercial space program. Private businesses such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as Aerojet Rocketdyne, are lining up to offer homegrown rocket engines to NASA. Meanwhile, Russian President Putin just abolished his country's own Federal Space Agency, replacing 'Roscosmos' with a new corporation that "will design new spacecraft and implement new projects by itself."

But before you assume that Russia has been bitten by the Capitalism bug - don't. In contrast to SpaceX, which is a private venture, Russia's new-and-improved Roscosmos will be wholly owned by the Russian state.

Asserting complete control over the space effort is, to Putin's mind, a way to control costs and prevent corruption, such as when certain persons at Roscosmos famously embezzled or wasted as much as $1.8 billion in 2014. Whether the restructuring will also make space travel "cheaper," as [deputy prime minister] Rogozin hopes, remains to be seen.

SpaceX publishes a price of $61.2M USD for a Falcon 9 launch. Can Roscosmos compete with that? The Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture ULA finds that price hard to beat. So do the French and Chinese. From the article:

[...] California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez described a conversation she had with France's Arianespace a few years ago: "They were telling me that their launch costs about $200 million equivalent. They said they weren't worried about UAL [sic] but could I get rid of SpaceX? Because they were going to drive them out of business!"

And over in China, officials interviewed by Aviation Week recently lamented that "published prices on the SpaceX website [are] very low." So low, in fact, that with China's own Long March rockets costing $70 million per launch, "they could not match them."


Original Submission

Related Stories

Future of U.S.-Russian Space Cooperation in Doubt 15 comments

Russia Wants to Extend U.S. Space Partnership. Or It Could Turn to China.

The American incentives for engaging with Russia in space in the 1990s — political goals like the employment of idle rocket scientists to prevent missile proliferation — have mostly disappeared with the resumption of tensions. The Trump administration has already proposed that by 2025 the United States should stop supporting the International Space Station that is the principal joint project today. A final decision is up to Congress. The American role might be shifted to a commercial footing thereafter.

[...] [It] is unclear how much longer the post-Soviet era of space cooperation between the United States and Russia can last in the more hostile environment now surrounding relations. In the interview, [Dmitri O. Rogozin, the director of Russia's space agency,] said Russia wanted to carry on joint flights with the United States and its allies, despite the tensions over election interference, wars in Syria and Ukraine, and the chemical weapons poisoning of a former double agent in Britain.

[...] Analysts say Moscow has a strong incentive to maintain the joint program: a decided lack of money to pursue a lunar station on its own. Russia's budget for its space program is something less than one-10th what the United States spends on NASA. [...] Russia's preference is to press on with a space program entwined with the United States', on either the lunar program or another venture, Mr. Rogozin said. But if talks fail, Russia can turn to China or India for partnership. There might then be two stations circling the Earth or the moon, one led by the United States the other a Russian-Chinese enterprise. Mr. Rogozin even floated the idea of a "BRIC station," the acronym for the developing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Mr. Rogozin in November ordered the Russian Academy of Sciences to study the prospects for a solo Russian program to build a habitable base on the surface of the moon. Ivan M. Moiseyev, the director of the Institute of Space Policy in Moscow, said in a telephone interview that any proposal for a lone Russian lunar station was fantastical, given the budget constraints. "The technical capability exists, but the finances don't."

The U.S. and NASA could develop stronger partnerships with the European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Indian Space Research Organisation instead.

Previously:

Related: Price War Between SpaceX and Russia


Original Submission

Russia's Space Leader Blusters About Mars in the Face of Stiff Budget Cuts 24 comments

Russia's space leader blusters about Mars in the face of stiff budget cuts

The leader of Russia's civil space program appears to be increasingly disengaged from reality. In recent months Dmitry Rogozin, the chief of Roscosmos, has given a series of interviews in which he has made all manner of big promises about the supposedly bright future of Russia's space program.

For example, in an interview published just today, Rogozin made the fantastical claim that his country's space program has the technical means to reach Mars and land cosmonauts there within eight to 10 years. If Russia is ready to finance such a plan, Rogozin guaranteed that Roscosmos stands ready to deliver.

Russia, Rogozin also recently said, is ready to do reuse better than SpaceX and the United States. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, he said, is only "semi-reusable," and Russia aspires to build a 21st-century rocket capable of 100 flights. He then reiterated that Russia would like to develop a version of its Soyuz rocket that has a methane-fueled engine.

SpaceX has flown its Falcon 9 first-stage rockets five times, and it plans to push toward reusing each booster 10 times. It is not clear what, if any, steps Russia has taken toward reuse. The reality is that Russia depends on reliable but decades-old technology to get into space. And while Rogozin talks a good game about sending his cosmonauts to the Moon or to Mars, and about competing with SpaceX on reusable rockets, this appears to be mostly bluster.

If you are still under any illusions about the state of Russia's space program, now is the time to dispel them.

Previously: Russian Space Agency Abolished and Replaced Following Financial Violations
Price War Between SpaceX and Russia
Russian Rocket Builder May Have Replaced Special Alloys With Cheap Metals
NASA and Roscosmos Release Joint Statement on ISS Leak Amid Rumors
Head of Russian Space Agency Roscosmos Wavers on Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway
Russia Space Chief Spars with Elon Musk Over Launch Pricing


Original Submission

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  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 25 2016, @11:56PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 25 2016, @11:56PM (#380103)

    Musky is much sexier than Pukin.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @02:07AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @02:07AM (#380140)

      Dude, what is your problem? Yeah, he's probably overrated as a genius, but his real genius is having a vision other than “get disgustingly, unimaginably rich off the blood of innocents” and getting shit done.

      The world would be a better place with more "Egon Musky"s.

  • (Score: 1) by fraxinus-tree on Tuesday July 26 2016, @12:11AM

    by fraxinus-tree (5590) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @12:11AM (#380109)

    SpaceX is new and cheap. Others lag big time, being government-operated and/or government-tied. Russia can never get their pricing right - mainly because of the way Russian military industry operates. They have a complex mesh of subsidies, cross-subsidies and political pricing for everything even remotely related to military. (And even in non-soviet Russia everything is somehow related to military.)

    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Tuesday July 26 2016, @12:30AM

      by bob_super (1357) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @12:30AM (#380114)

      Boeing and friends will just make sure that The Good People of DC ensure that the crazy newcomer from a Blue State doesn't get the juiciest classified contracts. Once the profit margin is made on these, they can compete at the low end and point out to SpaceX that slim margins are a dangerous way to operate a low-volume business.

      • (Score: 2) by Kell on Tuesday July 26 2016, @12:36AM

        by Kell (292) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @12:36AM (#380116)

        The danger here is that SpaceX has had a long history of conspicuous success. The more successful they are, the harder it becomes to choose favourites like that. In the short term SpaceX is stealing oxygen in the commercial space launch business, which lets them grow much faster than their competitors. Being low-volume, rockets let you go parallel very quickly.

        --
        Scientists ask questions. Engineers solve problems.
        • (Score: 1) by Ethanol-fueled on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:13AM

          by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:13AM (#380127) Homepage

          Indeed, they already lit a fire under the ULA's [wikipedia.org] ass. SpaceX are the AMD to Russia/ULA's Intel.

          • (Score: 3, Touché) by takyon on Tuesday July 26 2016, @04:51AM

            by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Tuesday July 26 2016, @04:51AM (#380189) Journal

            SpaceX are the AMD to Russia/ULA's Intel.

            Does that comparison also mean that SpaceX will suck ass and limp along financially for several years?

            --
            [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
            • (Score: 2) by tibman on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:59PM

              by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:59PM (#380289)

              If by "suck ass and limp along financially" you mean provide cheap rockets that get supplies/satellites to orbit, then yes.

              --
              SN won't survive on lurkers alone. Write comments.
    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by physicsmajor on Tuesday July 26 2016, @12:33AM

      by physicsmajor (1471) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @12:33AM (#380115)

      I'd argue it's more than that. SpaceX has clearly stated their goals, which are far beyond LEO, and are acting appropriately to realize that future. In order to have giant rockets transporting bulk materials to Mars, they realized from the start the existing paradigms weren't going to work.

      Essentially every other country and corporation/alliance is (or... was) fighting over the LEO market, because that's where the money was. So long as they were similar in price and 'good enough', there wasn't much incentive to innovate. Enter SpaceX, which doesn't even really care about LEO except as a stepping stone to larger things. They are making an entirely new market. But, as a side effect, SpaceX is obliterating all competition. Of note, the huge price disparities listed in the article are real, and before SpaceX's relaunch discounts. In the longer term, I wish someone would actually truly compete with SpaceX. Monopolies aren't ever virtuous, even when they look great to start.

      What worries me the most is the comment by France/Arianespace. For anyone who read Atlas Shrugged, the real takeaway is that when sleazy corporations realize they're on a losing path, they start to play dirty - competing not on the market, but through bribery and biased legislation. I sincerely hope SpaceX can dodge or crush any of these efforts, because it seems like that's about the only thing which could stand in their way. Tesla has done OK so far standing up to big auto, so at least they have some experience.

      • (Score: 2) by morpheus on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:23AM

        by morpheus (1989) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:23AM (#380130)

        the real takeaway is that when sleazy corporations realize they're on a losing path, they start to play dirty - competing not on the market, but through bribery and biased legislation. I sincerely hope SpaceX can dodge or crush any of these efforts, because it seems like that's about the only thing which could stand in their way. Tesla has done OK so far standing up to big auto, so at least they have some experience.

        Not to be a stick in the mud here but what in Musk's corporate history makes him so different from those evil corporations? The profitability of Tesla and SpaceX is by no means assured, whether short or long term. SpaceX, while private, took pretty large infusions of cash from 'government bureaucrats' in the beginning, not to mention hiring a lot of TRW/NASA engineers for their team (people gotta eat, I know but their experience did not come free and I am sure the government does not bother with NCCs in their contracts). I would not even mention fantasies like the Hyperloop and his generous 'giving away Tesla's charger patents' which upon closer review turned out to be little more than reviled 'design patents' (remember how everybody put down Apple's square corners?) with negligible technical content. Musk definitely knows how to play the PR card and while not exactly a negative in itself, what is the 'secret juice' that supposedly makes SpaceX 'tick'? It is a bit juvenile to dismiss the concerns of very experienced engineers at ESA, Roskosmos (or whatever it is called now), Boeing, and others as mere jealousy. It is more likely that SpaceX is an important player on the market that will spur some new development but it is unlikely that it will eliminate all other players (be it private or government). What is so special about, say, the Merlins? It is a low pressure engine whose technology is well understood, and is not particularly advanced (say, the Russian RD-180, designed in the 60's is quite a bit more sophisticated). Cheaper manufacturing? Reuse? How long will this advantage last?

        Finally, I have always wanted to understand why it is an axiom that a government (in any country, not just the US) is always so inefficient compared to a private business? What, there is no corruption in a private business? Before you start mentioning competition, market forces and other abstractions, why is the government bureaucracy any worse than the bureaucracy of a huge multinational like GE?

        Again, kudos to SpaceX for making it this far but it starts sounding more and more like a miracle and I am too old to believe in miracles or sheer genius of Elon Musk.

        • (Score: 3, Informative) by khallow on Tuesday July 26 2016, @02:51AM

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday July 26 2016, @02:51AM (#380151) Journal

          Not to be a stick in the mud here but what in Musk's corporate history makes him so different from those evil corporations?

          Intent. There were about half a dozen or more US businesses that had the technical chops and funding to do what SpaceX did in 1960 (minus the modern control systems and some of the manufacturing techniques). But playing ball with the US military and NASA was much more profitable than building your own (especially in an environment where there was no commercial launch market). So it didn't happen. I imagine there would have been a bunch of dead-end development (SpaceX is also unusual in having a lot of engineering talent even for an aerospace company). It's a huge might-have-been that we can only see now in hindsight when SpaceX is doing these things that were deemed impossible for more than half a century.

          • (Score: 5, Interesting) by physicsmajor on Tuesday July 26 2016, @04:59AM

            by physicsmajor (1471) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @04:59AM (#380192)

            Beyond intent - Musk doesn't try to legislate his competitors out of existence. I guarantee Musk doesn't have people on his payroll going around to legislation critters saying stuff like "if you could make Araine/ULA/Blue Origin go away, that would be great." He just builds a better mousetrap.

            As a thought experiment, what do you think Elon's reaction would be if Blue Origins suddenly could lift for 1/3 the price of SpaceX? It would probably go: can we figure out how they're doing that and do it better. Next: if we can't, well, fine - we'll just ride Blue Origin to Mars. SpaceX retools into a deep space operations company. See the difference here? Musk wins either way. He'd probably love for someone to beat him at his own game with SpaceX, so he could fully focus on the next problems.

            • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @09:30AM

              by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @09:30AM (#380243)

              When you rely on having means to do something else you deem more important, it is not necessary to do it yourself. It is if none else does it, but it is better if there are many others who do that and even better if there are other buyers beside you, who keep them alive and fed.

              If there is no real competition on the horizon, he should make it himself. Make key components outsource-able, create competition at each level of component supply. Churn out spin-offs of SpaceX and sell them on the stock market, let them compete with each other, evolve and push the prices even lower. Make space for growth, make many job makers involved, that's how you get political resilience against legislative manipulation. It would become unnecessary for his adversaries to eliminate him, because they could just buy on open market what he uses too, and lower their costs. A market is established, and all the players see the need for compatibility standards. That is recipe for global success and progress.

              Then cheap surface to LEO transit will become much harder to extinguish by incumbents' cartel. Industrial infrastructure for space operations development open to all who can afford it will be established, which is what he needs.

              • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday July 26 2016, @03:57PM

                by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday July 26 2016, @03:57PM (#380330) Journal
                My understanding is that SpaceX used to have a lot more outside parts in its rockets last decade. But they found that several of their rocket failures came from these sourced parts. By making almost all of the supply chain internal, SpaceX improved the reliability of their rockets. While your approach would be a feasible way to break up SpaceX at some future point, it runs counter to the current needs of the company (namely, making the supply chain reliable and cheap enough so that SpaceX can outcompete the other cheapest orbital launch platforms in the world).
                • (Score: 2) by githaron on Tuesday July 26 2016, @06:58PM

                  by githaron (581) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @06:58PM (#380399)

                  From my understanding, they also had a problem with timescale. Everyone else in the space industry was used to operating on slow timescales for big money. SpaceX was simply moving too fast to wait for them and wanted to do it for cheaper.

    • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:04AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:04AM (#380125)

      I'll suggest that SpaceX is cheap because they have actually put a production line in place. Not ones & twos, but a real line. The Dragon 9 first stage uses 9 engines + one for the second stage. When I toured the Hawthorne plant (a mechE friend works there) in March they were on schedule to turn out 250 engines per year -- 25 launches. Each engine is built on a special pallet and is moved from one assembly station to the next every day. This kind of production takes production planning, to make sure that operations and supplies are all balanced and available when needed.

      Each engine is the same, with one set of options if it's going to be used for the upper stage. Otherwise, no "specials" to upset the production flow. These engines are also cleverly designed and are nearly self-contained with local computing for engine control, sensor monitoring, safety, etc (just one network connection to the flight computer), plus power & fuel/oxidizer connections of course. So assembly into the booster is simplified, minimal wiring, and if a problem occurs during preflight, another engine can be swapped in quickly.

      Similar production lines are also in place for the other major systems (but they were not included in my nickel tour).

      Some of this is covered in this article from Feb 2016, http://spacenews.com/spacex-seeks-to-accelerate-falcon-9-production-and-launch-rates-this-year/ [spacenews.com]

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Dunbal on Tuesday July 26 2016, @12:40AM

    by Dunbal (3515) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @12:40AM (#380118)

    Price war between McDonald's and the little restaurant I like to visit with the Michelin star winning chef. I'm all for SpaceX but they still have a lot of homework left to do.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:20AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:20AM (#380129)

    Can an young, upstart capitalist do better than an established infrastructure supported by the state?

    I though we already answered this with the Cold War. Perhaps this is a refresher lesson.

    Should be fun to watch.
    The price for space access should be getting pretty good.
    I wonder if we are heading for a glut.

    • (Score: 2, Insightful) by kanweg on Tuesday July 26 2016, @05:29AM

      by kanweg (4737) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @05:29AM (#380197)

      "Can an young, upstart capitalist do better than an established infrastructure supported by the state?
      I though we already answered this with the Cold War. Perhaps this is a refresher lesson."

      While I'm cheering for what SpaceX does, let's not forget a couple of factors.
      - SpaceX is one of the hobbies of a billionaire. It is not your average start-up having a great idea. Blue origin? Same thing. Hey, I'd like to start a company in this arena too. But I know I can't pull it off.
      - Nasa (for which I also cheer) is funded by taxes. You know, the thing Americans complain about all the time not in the least when they think it is being wasted. So, it is not readily available and has to be spent relatively low risk and relatively much money is spent on keeping it low risk. (When high risk endeavours were taken (manned launches) the repercussion of failure was big (also politically), so that leads to safety first don't mind the money too much. Once SpaceX is doing manned launches, they'll find out that people do care about wetware although Elon already knows from the Tesla accident.
      - The SpaceX engineers were not educated by SpaceX. They learned on tax dollars what does and doesn't work. It is valuable knowledge that SpaceX didn't pay for. (Conversely, Nasa suffered a brain drain).
      - SpaceX is supported by the state in the sense that that is where most of their income comes from. It is this money that allows economy of scale, the money that allows them to grow and perhaps start commercial endeavours on their own. If they had to live only of commercial launches the launch price would be different.

      So, don't think of SpaceX (and Blue origin) as a young upstart capitalist like it is typical; it is completely a-typical.

      Bert
      Who can fight Mike Tyson when Mike is handcuffed and tied to the floor

      • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Tuesday July 26 2016, @09:14PM

        by Grishnakh (2831) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @09:14PM (#380444)

        - The SpaceX engineers were not educated by SpaceX. They learned on tax dollars what does and doesn't work. It is valuable knowledge that SpaceX didn't pay for. (Conversely, Nasa suffered a brain drain).

        This seems dubious to me.

        For starters, NASA has never built a rocket. That stuff has always been outsourced to private corporations such as Rocketdyne. NASA worked a lot like other government/military stuff where the government side would do a bunch of R&D and the companies would do the production work, and the government would do a lot of the coordination, testing, and final assembly, but still, serious rocket engine engineers aren't going to work for NASA, they're going to work for a company that builds rocket engines. So it's not like NASA had a huge army of people who were experts at building rocket engines and they all went to work at SpaceX.

        Secondly, NASA hasn't even been doing that much rocketry in recent years. All the engineers who worked on Apollo are either dead or close to it, and the Space Shuttle guys aren't far behind them. In the last decade, they've mostly just been sending up space probes and ISS resupply missions, which is great, but they did all that just using engines and even whole launch vehicles bought from other companies like ULA. The ISS crew missions have been sent on Russian Soyuzes.

        NASA's job is not to be a rocket-maker, it's to manage American scientific operations in space, and to do the scientific work involved (planning missions to Saturn/Jupiter/Pluto etc., operating the missions from ground control, analyzing the data returned, etc.). It's not much different than the military: the US military does not build aircraft carriers and jets, it pays other companies to do that for them (though it has a huge hand in working with them in the process), and the idea is to move more towards how the US government handles cars: the US federal government and its agencies has lots of cars and SUVs (visit DC and you'll see a bunch of them driving around), but they don't build cars, they buy from GM or Chrysler or Ford and slap stickers on them that say things like "FBI", "Homeland Security", "Capitol Police", etc. That's where they're going with rockets, and for good reason.

  • (Score: 2) by snufu on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:27AM

    by snufu (5855) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:27AM (#380131)

    until SpaceX charged me an extra $50 per checked bag. Was I pissed.

    • (Score: 1) by Ethanol-fueled on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:54AM

      by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @01:54AM (#380136) Homepage

      Huh. Sounds like you're just jealous because the dildo you ended up flying in was larger than the one in your carry-on.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @03:33AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @03:33AM (#380164)

    They are privately funded with billions in the bank and could well be charging much less than the true launch cost. After all, Musk's other business ventures, Tesla and SolarCity, are losing money hand over fist.

    • (Score: 2) by timbim on Tuesday July 26 2016, @07:43AM

      by timbim (907) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @07:43AM (#380223)

      you sure about those other two companies loosing money?

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @02:05PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @02:05PM (#380291)

        "Sure" is a strong word. I would never bet my life on Wall St. numbers. But TSLA earnings per share have been negative or zero since at least 11/4/2014
        http://www.streetinsider.com/ec_earnings.php?q=TSLA [streetinsider.com]
        SCTY is a similar money pit.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @03:50PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 26 2016, @03:50PM (#380327)

          So re-investing in the long-term to build up scale and increase efficiency is a bad thing?
          With this kind of thinking, no wonder most new businesses fail.

          • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Tuesday July 26 2016, @04:18PM

            by bob_super (1357) on Tuesday July 26 2016, @04:18PM (#380339)

            "Losing a bit of money is great" - the accountant.