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posted by martyb on Tuesday July 25, @10:22PM   Printer-friendly
from the this-is-progress? dept.

Let's just throw this old thing at the Moon and call it a day:

A cargo container that was built to fly on NASA's space shuttles is being repurposed as a prototype for a deep space habitat.

Lockheed Martin announced it will refurbish the Donatello multi-purpose logistics module (MLPM), transforming from it from its original, unrealized role as a supply conveyor for the International Space Station to a test and training model of a living area for astronauts working beyond Earth orbit. The work is being done under a public-private partnership between the aerospace corporation and NASA.

"We are excited to work with NASA to repurpose a historic piece of flight hardware," said Bill Pratt, Lockheed Martin's program manager for the deep space habitat contract, in a statement.

Donatello was one of three MPLMs that was designed to fly in the space shuttle payload bay to transfer cargo to the station. Built by the Italian Space Agency under a contract with NASA, two modules, Leonardo and Raffaello, flew on 12 shuttle missions between 2001 and 2011.

Also at Popular Mechanics.

Previously: NASA and International Partners Planning Orbital Lunar Outpost
NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars

Related: Moon Base Could Cost Just $10 Billion Due to New Technologies
Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
Cislunar 1000 Vision - Commercializing Space
Forget Mars, Colonize Titan
Japan Planning to Put a Man on the Moon Around 2030


Original Submission

Related Stories

Moon Base Could Cost Just $10 Billion Due to New Technologies 32 comments

A NASA scientist suggests that building a base on the moon would be feasible within a $10 billion budget, in a special issue of New Space focusing on the feasibility of lunar colonization:

What if I told you there's no reason we couldn't set up a small base on the moon by 2022 without breaking the bank? The endeavor would cost about $10 billion, which is cheaper than one U.S. aircraft carrier. Some of the greatest scientists and professionals in the space business already have a plan. NASA's Chris McKay, an astrobiologist, wrote about it in a special issue of the New Space journal, published just a few weeks ago.

Before we get into the details, let's ask ourselves: Why the moon? Although scientists (and NASA) don't find it all that exciting, the moon is a great starting point for further exploration. Furthermore, building a lunar base would provide us with the real-world experience that may prove invaluable for future projects on other planets like Mars, which NASA plans to reach by 2030. The main reason the moon is not a part of NASA's plan is simply because of the agency's crimped budget.

NASA's leaders say they can afford only one or the other: the moon or Mars. If McKay and his colleagues are correct, though, the U.S. government might be able to pull off both trips. All it takes is a change of perspective and ingenuity. "The big takeaway," McKay says, "is that new technologies, some of which have nothing to do with space — such as self-driving cars and waste-recycling toilets — are going to be incredibly useful in space, and are driving down the cost of a moon base to the point where it might be easy to do." The document outlines a series of innovations — already existing and in development — that work together toward the common goal of building the first permanent lunar base.

[cont..]

Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again? 78 comments

NASA seems hell bent to go to Mars, but can't afford to on its own.
Its international partners have no stomach for that — they would would rather return to our moon and build a base there for further exploration.

Doesn't going back to the moon make more sense? Build a base on the moon, and use its low gravity and possible water at the poles as propellant for further space exploration?

Why not the moon first?

http://www.theverge.com/2016/6/7/11868840/moon-return-journey-to-mars-nasa-congress-space-policy

Links:
From NASA itself, in 2008: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/series/moon/why_go_back.html
The all-knowing, ever-trustworthy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonization_of_the_Moon


Original Submission

Cislunar 1000 Vision - Commercializing Space 25 comments

Dubbed the "Cislunar 1,000 Vision," an initiative outlined by American launch provider ULA (United Launch Alliance) foresees a self-sustaining economy that supports 1,000 people living and working in Earth-moon space roughly 30 years from now. The basic outline is to develop re-fueling capability in Earth-moon space, perhaps by propellant made using water extracted from the moon or asteroids. This, in turn, will make it more economically feasible to get to destinations more distant. From the Space.com article:

For example, a rocket could carry just enough fuel to get to low Earth orbit and then refuel its upper stage in space to get a payload to the much more distant geosynchronous transfer orbit.

"I can potentially do that whole mission cheaper if I can get propellant cheap enough in low Earth orbit," Sowers said. George Sowers is vice president of advanced programs for Colorado-based ULA.

The concept stems from an analysis and ongoing technical work by ULA involving a souped-up Centaur rocket stage called ACES (Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage), a tanker called XEUS, and a "kit" that augments an ACES stage, allowing the vehicle to land horizontally on the lunar surface and to be stocked with moon-mined fuel for transport.

NASA and International Partners Planning Orbital Lunar Outpost 10 comments

According to Popular Mechanics, the Russians might finally reach the Moon... aboard an American-made Orion spacecraft en route to an internationally built and operated orbital lunar outpost:

During the past couple of years, American, Russian, European, Japanese, and Canadian officials quietly discussed a possible joint human space flight program after the retirement of the ISS. Although these five space agencies might not be on the same page as far as whether to go to the moon first or head straight to Mars, they're getting closer to an agreement that a human outpost in lunar orbit would be the necessary first step either way.

During the latest round of negotiations in Houston last month, the ISS partners narrowed down the list of potential modules that would comprise their periodically visited habitat. According to the provisional plan, four key pieces made the cut for the first phase of the assembly, which is penciled in to take place from 2023 to 2028 in lunar orbit: The spartan outpost will include the U.S.-European space tug, a Canadian robot arm, a pair of habitation modules from Europe and Japan, and an airlock module from Russia. This hardware would hitchhike on NASA's giant SLS rocket, along with the Orion crew vehicle at the top of each booster.


Original Submission

NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars 42 comments

http://www.space.com/36270-nasa-deep-space-gateway-moon-orbit.html

It looks like NASA's stepping-stone to Mars will be a miniature space station in lunar orbit rather than a chunk of captured asteroid.

The agency plans to build an astronaut-tended "deep space gateway" in orbit around the moon during the first few missions of the Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion crew capsule, which are scheduled to fly together for the first time in late 2018, NASA officials said.

"I envision different partners, both international and commercial, contributing to the gateway and using it in a variety of ways with a system that can move to different orbits to enable a variety of missions," William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C, said in a statement. [Red Planet or Bust: 5 Crewed Mars Mission Ideas]

"The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system," Gerstenmaier added.

One of those "other destinations" is Mars. NASA is working to get astronauts to the vicinity of the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s, as directed by former President Barack Obama in 2010. For the last few years, the agency's envisioned "Journey to Mars" campaign has included the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), an effort to pluck a boulder from a near-Earth asteroid and drag the rock to lunar orbit, where it could be visited by astronauts aboard Orion.

But ARM's future looks bleak; President Donald Trump provided no money for the mission in his proposed 2018 federal budget, which the White House released earlier this month.

Also see:

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/deep-space-gateway-to-open-opportunities-for-distant-destinations

http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/a25872/nasa-cis-lunar-orbit/

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/tdm/sep/index.html


Original Submission

Forget Mars, Colonize Titan 41 comments

John Timmer at Ars Technica reports:

So, why Titan? The two closer destinations, the Moon and Mars, have atmospheres that are effectively nonexistent. That means any habitation will have to be extremely robust to hold its contents in place. Both worlds are also bathed in radiation, meaning those habitats will need to be built underground, as will any agricultural areas to feed the colonists. Any activities on the surface will have to be limited to avoid excessive radiation exposure.

Would anyone want to go to a brand-new world just to spend their lives in a cramped tunnel? Hendrix and Wohlforth suggest the answer will be "no." Titan, in contrast, offers a dense atmosphere that shields the surface from radiation and would make any structural failures problematic, rather than catastrophic. With an oxygen mask and enough warm clothing, humans could roam Titan's surface in the dim sunlight. Or, given the low gravity and dense atmosphere, they could float above it in a balloon or on personal wings.

The vast hydrocarbon seas and dunes, Hendrix and Wohlforth suggest, would allow polymers to handle many of the roles currently played by metal and wood. Drilling into Titan's crust would access a vast supply of liquid water in the moon's subsurface ocean. It's not all the comforts of home, but it's a lot more of them than you'd get on the Moon or Mars.


Original Submission

Japan Planning to Put a Man on the Moon Around 2030 7 comments

http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/29/asia/japan-moon-landing-jaxa/index.html

Japan plans to put a man on the moon around 2030, according to a new proposal by the government's Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). It is the first time JAXA has revealed an intention to send Japanese astronauts beyond the International Space Station, and it will mostly likely be part of an international mission, the agency said.

[...] A spokesman for JAXA told CNN the new plan wasn't to send an exclusively Japanese rocket to the Moon, which would be extremely costly, but rather to contribute to a multinational manned lunar probe. By contributing technology, JAXA would hope to be allotted a space on the mission, which would begin preparation in 2025.

Also at Space News.


Original Submission

Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022 16 comments

In a move intended to align with the National Space Council's call for NASA to return to the Moon, the United Launch Alliance intends to launch a Bigelow Aerospace B330 inflatable module into low Earth orbit, and later boost it into lunar orbit using a rocket which can have propellant transferred to it from another rocket:

Bigelow Aerospace, a company devoted to manufacturing inflatable space habitats, says it's planning to put one of its modules into orbit around the Moon within the next five years. The module going to lunar space will be the B330, Bigelow's design concept for a standalone habitat that can function autonomously as a commercial space station. The plan is for the B330 to serve as something of a lunar depot, where private companies can test out new technologies, or where astronauts can stay to undergo training for deep space missions.

"Our lunar depot plan is a strong complement to other plans intended to eventually put people on Mars," Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, said in a statement. "It will provide NASA and America with an exciting and financially practical success opportunity that can be accomplished in the short term."

To put the habitat in lunar orbit, Bigelow is looking to get a boost from the United Launch Alliance. The B330 is slated to launch on top of ULA's future rocket, the Vulcan, which is supposed to begin missions no earlier than 2019. The plan is for the Vulcan to loft the B330 into lower Earth orbit, where it will stay for one year to demonstrate that it works properly in space. During that time, Bigelow hopes to send supplies to the station and rotate crew members in and out every few months.

After that, it'll be time to send the module to the Moon. ULA will launch two more Vulcan rockets, leaving both of the vehicles' upper stages in orbit. Called ACES, for Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage, these stages can remain in space, propelling other spacecraft to farther out destinations. ULA plans to transfer all of the propellant from one ACES to the other, using the fully fueled stage to propel the B330 the rest of the way to lunar orbit.

The B330 is the giant version of the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module.

Previously: Moon Base Could Cost Just $10 Billion Due to New Technologies
Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently
Buzz Aldrin: Retire the ISS to Reach Mars
China to Send Potato Farming Test Probe to the Moon
Stephen Hawking Urges Nations to Pursue Lunar Base and Mars Landing
Lockheed Martin Repurposing Shuttle Cargo Module to Use for Lunar Orbiting Base (could they be joined together?)
ESA Expert Envisions "Moon Village" by 2030-2050
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
Bigelow Expandable Activity Module to Continue Stay at the International Space Station


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 25, @10:46PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 25, @10:46PM (#544342)

    What no Michaelangelo?

    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Tuesday July 25, @11:07PM (1 child)

      by bob_super (1357) on Tuesday July 25, @11:07PM (#544347)

      He had gone out to order pizza.

      • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Wednesday July 26, @11:41AM

        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Wednesday July 26, @11:41AM (#544595)

        It's turtles all the way down, especially in the Italian Space Agency.

  • (Score: 2) by frojack on Tuesday July 25, @10:56PM

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday July 25, @10:56PM (#544344) Journal

    Pretty small space for anything but a toilet. Hook up all three of them together, and maybe you could live there for a short while.

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Absolutely.Geek on Tuesday July 25, @11:46PM (1 child)

    by Absolutely.Geek (5328) on Tuesday July 25, @11:46PM (#544362)

    The article says 6.4 * 4.6 diameter; not sure but that is probable the OD (outer diameter) this thing has conical ends so from a total outside ~116m^3 it is probably closer to ~100m^3 internal living space.

    Maybe something line the https://bigelowaerospace.com/b330/ [bigelowaerospace.com] would be better suited with 330m^3 of space and packing down much smaller for launch and transport; not that it is available yet, but it is not like they are launching this thing tomorrow anyway.

    --
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    • (Score: 2) by turgid on Wednesday July 26, @08:10AM

      by turgid (4318) on Wednesday July 26, @08:10AM (#544539) Journal

      Why has the space industry been so slow to test and quality those inflatable habitats? I seem to remember them being first prototyped in the 1980s.

      --
      Don't let Righty keep you down.
  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by kaszz on Wednesday July 26, @12:07AM (5 children)

    by kaszz (4211) on Wednesday July 26, @12:07AM (#544371) Journal

    That module seems quite small to be suitable as somewhere to stay for longer periods. Considering there's a lot of stuff to store in terms of food and life support. And how will they build the radiation protection? the radiation in LEO is a health concern. The radiation at the Moon is terminal whenever the Sun gets a sneeze. The Apollo missions were lucky any longer term stay will not have that luxury.

    As for radiation protection, 4 meters of structurally stabilized (heated) moon dust or asteroid rock will likely do it.

    So "test and training model" is likely to be pretty much what it can be. Playground in LEO, nothing more. But if they dare to make it rotate, it could be used to get bio data on sub-1G human performance. For which there is NO DATA presently. No experiment proposal whatsoever and it will still be essential for any long term Mars stay.

    Though.. nice for Lockheed Martin to get thrown a bone now that SpaceX seems to p0wn space launch ;)

    • (Score: 4, Funny) by takyon on Wednesday July 26, @12:14AM (4 children)

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Wednesday July 26, @12:14AM (#544376) Journal

      How can we get superheroes if we're not routinely exposing scientists and astronauts to radiation sources?

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      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Wednesday July 26, @12:33AM (3 children)

        by kaszz (4211) on Wednesday July 26, @12:33AM (#544387) Journal

        There's a difference between being a hero and doing the suicide thing that can be avoided. And where death has no benefit for any party.

        It's known there's lethal radiation spikes regularly. It's known how intense these peaks are and how to build radiation protection to mitigate it. So it seems foolish to not do what's needed and just get done with it.
        There is a cost, but then there's also time to do it smart so it won't cost too much. Send either water or borated polyethylene. Another approach is to use the Sun radiation to partially melt blocks of Moon dust or rocks and send into space using a solar powered mag-drive. And if there's easy water on the Moon then that could be collected and shoot into orbit to be collected and filled into tanks.

        • (Score: 4, Touché) by PartTimeZombie on Wednesday July 26, @12:40AM (1 child)

          by PartTimeZombie (4827) on Wednesday July 26, @12:40AM (#544392)

          Found the guy whose never read a comic book.

          • (Score: 2) by turgid on Wednesday July 26, @08:12AM

            by turgid (4318) on Wednesday July 26, @08:12AM (#544542) Journal

            Did Dennis the Menace ever get a large dose of gamma rays or bitten by a spider? He might have been bitten by Gnasher or maybe even Rasher, but he always seemed to get his father's slipper.

            --
            Don't let Righty keep you down.
        • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Wednesday July 26, @04:08PM

          by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday July 26, @04:08PM (#544698)

          > There's a difference between being a hero and doing the suicide thing that can be avoided.

          Supernatural selection has an odd habit of rewarding extremely careless people who really deserved to be killed.
          No wonder we keep having to rebuild cities.

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 26, @04:38AM (13 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 26, @04:38AM (#544466)

    The SLS, which this module will be designed to be flown on, is a joke. Boeing and Lockheed are a joke. The reason I mentioned Boeing here is because the entire system is being built by ULA. What is ULA? ULA is an anti-competitive merger between Boeing and Lockheed. They 'promised' would bring down costs. It sent them skyrocketing up, infinitely higher than the SLS has ever gone. Well actually that's kind of unfair since the SLS has never once flown, and it's possible it never will. The program started in earnest in 2010. It's first flight was scheduled for 2017... then 2018... then 2019. Here [space.com] is a report on the SLS from 2011 by space.com. And then there's the money. The SLS program and it's direct derivatives (including the Orion capsule) are receiving funding in the tens of billions of dollars. On top of this our government literally pays ULA $1 billion a year allowance for no reason whatsoever. On paper, it's supposed to ensure that we always have a launch service available for military needs - but in reality it's a completely unjustified handout.

    So the SLS is now aiming for a 9 year timeline to go from planning to an unmanned lunar flyby. Let's look at some alternatives. How about what we did 5 decades ago? In 1962 we had never taken a man outside of Earth's orbit. 1969, 7 years later - we put a man on the moon. Okay well that cost billions of dollars... oh wait. Oh fine fine. Let's compare SLS to something more modern. SpaceX's primary source of revenue is from actually doing stuff. And do it, do they. The average ULA launch costs the taxpayer about $400 million dollars. SpaceX does the same launches for less than $100 million, saving more than $300 million per launch. With absolutely $0 of public funding directed towards their purpose, SpaceX has already been developing their own heavy launch capability. The Falcon Heavy will have it's maiden launch later this year. And while ULA plans for a 2019 unmanned flyby, SpaceX is currently planning to send two unnamed adventurers on a manned voyage around the moon - next year.

    The SLS needs to be cancelled (along with ULA's 'allowance') ASAP with all of that massive funding redirected towards competitive commercial contracts. With ULA we might make it to the moon by 2030. Maybe they'll get their moon orbiting closet up by the 2040s. And it'd only cost a few trillion dollars. With commercial contracts we could be on Mars by the 2020s and on the moon before 2020. The entire estimated cost for the initial development of SpaceX's Mars capable launch vehicle is ~$10 billion. It's such a shame that our government is throwing away so much money on companies that by no means have shown they deserve it.

    • (Score: 2) by turgid on Wednesday July 26, @08:00AM (12 children)

      by turgid (4318) on Wednesday July 26, @08:00AM (#544536) Journal

      SoaceX needs competition too. They've shaken up the moribund access to space market, but Elon Musk has become a bit of a cult leader who can do no wrong in the eyes of his worshippers. This needs to be kept in check. Very recently, his grandiose claims and plans have taken some knocks, the Dragon capsule is losing its landing legs and retro tickets and will have to splashdown, and the Falcon Heavy has some pretty fundamental design flaws regarding structural loading that really should have been foreseen at the design stage. We worship the rich at our own detriment. Diversity and competition are necessary for progress and a healthy industry.

      --
      Don't let Righty keep you down.
      • (Score: 2, Funny) by khallow on Wednesday July 26, @01:36PM (8 children)

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday July 26, @01:36PM (#544618) Journal

        This needs to be kept in check.

        No, it doesn't. We have better things to do than keep the best and most productive of our society down merely because they demonstrate some degree of hubris. Reality has its own checks.

        • (Score: 2) by turgid on Wednesday July 26, @01:40PM (7 children)

          by turgid (4318) on Wednesday July 26, @01:40PM (#544621) Journal

          I wish there were a "-1 Completely Missed the Point" mod. Come on then, tell us how the Sacred Market Who Must Be Worshipped Above All Else works without competition to keep the megalomaniac loonies in check?

          --
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          • (Score: 2, Funny) by khallow on Wednesday July 26, @01:44PM (6 children)

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday July 26, @01:44PM (#544623) Journal

            Come on then, tell us how the Sacred Market Who Must Be Worshipped Above All Else works without competition to keep the megalomaniac loonies in check?

            First, there is competition. There is reality as well. Both which would serve to keep them in check. Third, markets create a great avenue for megalomaniac loonies (at least the ones who can create multiple, large viable businesses) to do good things for society.

            • (Score: 2) by turgid on Wednesday July 26, @02:00PM (5 children)

              by turgid (4318) on Wednesday July 26, @02:00PM (#544637) Journal

              Like I said, point missed entirely.

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              • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday July 27, @12:04AM (4 children)

                by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday July 27, @12:04AM (#544930) Journal

                Like I said, point missed entirely.

                I'm going to keep missing the point, as long as a certain someone keeps not talking about the point.

                • (Score: 2) by turgid on Thursday July 27, @07:41AM (3 children)

                  by turgid (4318) on Thursday July 27, @07:41AM (#545043) Journal

                  Your argument appears to be that everyone and their businesses should be subject to Market Forces unless they are a billionaire, when they should be exempt from any form of criticism, scruitiny, checks and balances, scepticism or accountability.

                  Is that clear enough for you?

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                  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday July 27, @12:43PM (2 children)

                    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday July 27, @12:43PM (#545133) Journal

                    Your argument appears to be that everyone and their businesses should be subject to Market Forces unless they are a billionaire, when they should be exempt from any form of criticism, scruitiny, checks and balances, scepticism or accountability.

                    Is that clear enough for you?

                    No, because that's a ridiculous thing to conjecture from my writings.

                    Musk's businesses are still subject to all of the above. For example, SpaceX has competition both from inside the US launch market (ULA and Orbital Sciences with new emerging launch providers possible over the next couple of decades) and from other competitors in China, Russia, Europe, and India. That is a typical market force and a substantial check on any would-be control of the market by SpaceX.

                    Nor do we see any actual need to control Musk's behavior. NASA and elsewhere in the US government, the only parties that have to launch on US launchers, could be encouraging a competitive US launch market, but they aren't.

                    Second, it's not the job of Musk's "worshipers" to provide scrutiny or accountability. It is not the end of the world if someone on the internets is an uncritical supporter of Musk or some of his businesses. We have accountants, regulators, and various other professional parties to provide that responsibility.

                    Third, while reading through the thread, I realized that you started posting this in response to an attack on SLS. So here, you are complaining about Musk not being exposed to market forces as some sort of defense of SLS, even though he is subject to market forces, but completely ignoring that SLS isn't. SLS is 100% funded by US federal funding. SLS will never launch commercial payloads (because if it actually launches, it'll be too expensive). SLS will never compete on a market, but rather be a pure political animal. Sure looks like a load of delusional, Orwellian doublespeak to me.

                    How is forcing SpaceX to compete with a non-market driven rocket (whose primary advantage is its US Senate supporters guaranteeing funding for at least a few more years) going to be market competition? What happens if SpaceX proves to be a vastly cheaper option than SLS (which I think the far more likely outcome)?

                    My view is that all this funding of SLS has created a politically driven, parasitic, rent seeking ecosystem that will naturally be very hostile to any competition from private rockets like the Falcon Heavy and have access to the political machinery to do something about it. In the past, that has led to things like regulatory interference and even creation of a monopoly on launch payloads (which the Space Shuttle had roughly from 1975 to 1985). My view is that it would be vastly better to have a monopoly by a private company (which at least has to take considerable effort at providing launch services to preserve the monopoly) on large payloads than a monopoly by a government launch vehicle which serves to keep the US out of the business altogether. We risk the latter by continuing to fund such an abysmally performing and costly vehicle as the SLS. Eventually, it'll come to the point where SLS's continued survival depends on the destruction of its far superior competitors. I don't trust the US political system to make the right decisions when that happens.

                    SLS creates powerful political players who now have incentive to obstruct US progress in developing orbital launch systems and beyond. This is a long term disaster in the making. I think it is ridiculous to ignore this and argue black is white by claiming that somehow supporting SLS is going to create the market forces, which SpaceX is already beholden to, but which SLS is not. Where are the market forces that will contain SLS? Why is it still kicking along with all the criticism of the rocket (number one being its extraordinary cost!)? Where will all those checks and balances be, that you think are needed with SpaceX, when the interests of SLS conflict with the interests of the US people? Why would we be funding SLS at all if we were actually paying attention to criticism and accountability for that program?

                    My view is that SLS can't take it. If it were to become beholden to all the stuff that you think SpaceX isn't subject to (but is), it would vanish instantly. This is insanity. There are ways to create a competitive US launch market, but creating a vast rent seeking machine isn't a way.

                    • (Score: 2) by turgid on Thursday July 27, @01:21PM (1 child)

                      by turgid (4318) on Thursday July 27, @01:21PM (#545155) Journal

                      I thought SoaceX got public funding for the development of some of its rockets and capsules? And anyway, if capatilist business is so superior, surely it will run rings around the fat, bloated, commie, Satanic NASA? Look, all your hero Musk needs to do is to keep putting payloads into orbit cheaply and reliably enough to be able to invest in development of bigger and better rockets. If he's as good as his propaganda suggests, he'll quickly overtake NASA/LockMart/Boeing who will be forced to eat humble pie.

                      --
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                      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday July 27, @08:16PM

                        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday July 27, @08:16PM (#545402) Journal

                        I thought SoaceX got public funding for the development of some of its rockets and capsules?

                        Ok, I think I see where you're coming from. SpaceX has gotten public funding for the Dragon capsule. But I heard that they didn't get public funding for development of the Falcon 1, Falcon 9, or Falcon Heavy rockets. What NASA and to a lesser extend the Department of Defense has done is pay amply for some payloads to orbit (including the Dragon capsule) which has indirectly helped to cover these costs of development.

                        And anyway, if capatilist business is so superior, surely it will run rings around the fat, bloated, commie, Satanic NASA?

                        NASA did a year 2011 analysis [nasa.gov] of SpaceX's approach in an appendix. Here is Appendix B in full:

                        NASA recently conducted a predicted cost estimate of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle using the NASA-Air Force Cost Model (NAFCOM). NAFCOM is the primary cost estimating tool NASA uses to predict the costs for launch vehicles, crewed vehicles, planetary landers, rovers, and other flight hardware elements prior to the development of these systems. NAFCOM is a parametric cost estimating tool with a historical database of over 130 NASA and Air Force space flight hardware projects. It has been developed and refined over the past 13 years with 10 releases providing increased accuracy, data content, and functionality. NAFCOM uses a number of technical inputs in the estimating process. These include mass of components, manufacturing methods, engineering management, test approach, integration complexity, and pre-development studies.

                        Another variable is the relationship between the Government and the contractor during development. At one end, NAFCOM can model an approach that incorporates a heavy involvement on the part of the Government, which is a more traditional approach for unique development efforts with advanced technology. At the other end, more commercial-like practices can be assumed for the cost estimate where the contractor has more responsibility during the development effort.

                        For the Falcon 9 analysis, NASA used NAFCOM to predict the development cost for the Falcon 9 launch vehicle using two methodologies:

                        1) Cost to develop Falcon 9 using traditional NASA approach, and

                        2) Cost using a more commercial development approach.

                        Under methodology #1, the cost model predicted that the Falcon 9 would cost $4.0 billion based on a traditional approach. Under methodology #2, NAFCOM predicted $1.7 billion when the inputs were adjusted to a more commercial development approach. Thus, the predicted the cost to develop the Falcon 9 if done by NASA would have been between $1.7 billion and $4.0 billion.

                        SpaceX has publicly indicated that the development cost for Falcon 9 launch vehicle was approximately $300 million. Additionally, approximately $90 million was spent developing the Falcon 1 launch vehicle which did contribute to some extent to the Falcon 9, for a total of $390 million. NASA has verified these costs.

                        It is difficult to determine exactly why the actual cost was so dramatically lower than the NAFCOM predictions. It could be any number of factors associated with the non-traditional public-private partnership under which the Falcon 9 was developed (e.g., fewer NASA processes, reduced oversight, and less overhead), or other factors not directly tied to the development approach. NASA is continuing to refine this analysis to better understand the differences.

                        Regardless of the specific factors, this analysis does indicate the potential for reducing space hardware development costs, given the appropriate conditions. It is these conditions that NASA hopes to replicate, to the extent appropriate and feasible, in the development of commercial crew transportation systems.

                        In other words, using NASA's usual costing approach for contract bids, they would have come up with an amount ($4 billion) over ten times larger than what it cost SpaceX ($390 million) to develop three rocket engines (Merlin, Draco, and Kestrel), two rockets (Falcon 1 and Falcon 9), and paying for the first six or so launches (including failures). Even using a new proposed costing method (which to my knowledge still is not in use), they were able to reduce their costing to four times ($1.7 billion) the amount SpaceX actually spent.

                        This sure looks like running rings around NASA to me.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 26, @03:45PM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 26, @03:45PM (#544685)

        Diversity is irrelevant, but competition is definitely a great thing. And there is competition. While SpaceX is the most mature company actually producing viable products, Blue Origin, Orbital Sciences, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Virgin Galactic are right behind them. One of these days Jeff Bezos may even start making rockets instead of making claims about making rockets on his website. In any case, SpaceX is holding onto their position for reasons beyond a lack of competition.

        Failure is, within reason, a good thing. If companies aren't failing then they aren't pushing the boundaries. This applies a million times over in an industry lock rocketry where we're still operating at a very primitive level with very complex systems that have a million ways to fail. Complete intolerance for failure is arguably a big part of the reason why the current space industry has seen, at best, moderate evolutionary gains compared to where we were 50 years ago. It's probably even the reason that NASA continues to push the SLS today. They know it's a terrible project that's unlikely to go anywhere, but it's 'something.' What if NASA spoke up against the SLS and congress decided to substantially cut their funding? They'd be left to rely on outcry from and increasingly apathetic electorate, being fed information from an increasingly corrupt media, to pressure congress into doing the right thing. They're afraid to fail, so instead of that they'll sit around twiddling their thumbs and go for low cost, low risk, low reward missions while spending the lion's share of their funding as a giant congressional district handout. People need to stop being so willing to accept mediocrity as a 'compromise.'

        • (Score: 2) by turgid on Wednesday July 26, @04:24PM

          by turgid (4318) on Wednesday July 26, @04:24PM (#544708) Journal

          Diversity is irrelevant

          No, it's very relevant. In the nuclear industry, for example, they rely on (at least) redundancy, diversity and segregation for safety i.e. more than one, different makes and designs and physical barriers.

          Diversity is useful in business as well because it provides more choice to the customer, but also because it reduces the tendency to stagnate if everyone's using essentially the same design to the point where the only innovations are tiny. For example, everyone's more or less using stick rockets today.

          Failure is, within reason, a good thing.

          Yes, fail early, fail often. We call it Agile. It's a good thing when you are in control of your parameters, you have a good Design of Experiment so that you are measuring the right things and can feed back the information into your development cycle to make the next iteration more reliable.

          Complete intolerance for failure is arguably a big part of the reason why the current space industry has seen, at best, moderate evolutionary gains compared to where we were 50 years ago.

          I beg to differ. It's not fear of failure. It's lack of motivation. Going around in circles in LEO isn't terribly exciting but getting there needs to be made cheap and reliable. What is needed is proper leadership, ambitious goals, proper funding, commitment to follow through to completion etc. This isn't a problem of Private vs. Public, just one of vision. Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. A lot of us do, it's just that he has the personal wealth to make it happen. He's a very shrewd and lucky man but he is not a god or a superhero.

          It's probably even the reason that NASA continues to push the SLS today. They know it's a terrible project that's unlikely to go anywhere, but it's 'something.'

          I suspect the reason NASA continues to push SLS is because they keep getting kicked around by successive presidents for partisan reasons and are desperate to cling to something and see it through to a working product. I'd do exactly the same in their position.

          People need to stop being so willing to accept mediocrity as a 'compromise.'

          Indeed they do, and mediocrity comes in many forms. I've seen a lot of it now, Vision and leadership are the lacking ingredients in most industries.

          --
          Don't let Righty keep you down.
        • (Score: 2) by turgid on Wednesday July 26, @04:31PM

          by turgid (4318) on Wednesday July 26, @04:31PM (#544714) Journal

          This is diversity [theregister.co.uk] in launcher technology. [space.com].

          The stick rockets are the VHS video recorders of access to space. Virgin Galactic seems to be stuck on primitive agricultural technology.

          --
          Don't let Righty keep you down.
  • (Score: 1) by Muad'Dave on Wednesday July 26, @11:13AM

    by Muad'Dave (1413) on Wednesday July 26, @11:13AM (#544581)

    > multi-purpose logistics module (MLPM)

    Shouldn't that be MPLM?

  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday July 26, @01:42PM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday July 26, @01:42PM (#544622) Journal
    We need to get away from the destructive thinking of one-off. Here, there's only one such object. So there will be plenty of very large, one-time costs that will be completely irrelevant to anything else that the US or humanity does in space. If there had been, say 50 of these things, then most of the costs would be quite relevant since they would be useful in reducing the cost of deploying the other 49.
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