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posted by janrinok on Wednesday March 28 2018, @08:08PM   Printer-friendly
from the weighty-problem dept.

NASA chief explains why agency won't buy a bunch of Falcon Heavy rockets

Since the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket in February, NASA has faced some uncomfortable questions about the affordability of its own Space Launch System rocket. By some estimates, NASA could afford 17 to 27 Falcon Heavy launches a year for what it is paying annually to develop the SLS rocket, which won't fly before 2020. Even President Trump has mused about the high costs of NASA's rocket. On Monday, during a committee meeting of NASA's Advisory Council, former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale raised this issue. Following a presentation by Bill Gerstenmaier, chief of human spaceflight for NASA, Hale asked whether the space agency wouldn't be better off going with the cheaper commercial rocket.

[...] In response, Gerstenmaier pointed Hale and other members of the advisory committee—composed of external aerospace experts who provide non-binding advice to the space agency—to a chart he had shown earlier in the presentation. This chart showed the payload capacity of the Space Launch System in various configurations in terms of mass sent to the Moon. "It's a lot smaller than any of those," Gerstenmaier said, referring to the Falcon Heavy's payload capacity to TLI, or "trans-lunar injection," which effectively means the amount of mass that can be broken out of low-Earth orbit and sent into a lunar trajectory. In the chart, the SLS Block 1 rocket has a TLI capacity of 26 metric tons. (The chart also contains the more advanced Block 2 version of the SLS, with a capacity of 45 tons. However, this rocket is at least a decade away, and it will require billions of dollars more to design and develop.)

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy TLI capacity is unknown, but estimated to be somewhere between 18 and 22 tons (between the known payloads of 16.8 tons to Mars and 26.7 tons to geostationary orbit).

Does the SLS need to launch more than 18 tons to TLI? No. All of the currently planned components of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (formerly the Deep Space Gateway) have a mass of 10 tons or less due to flying alongside a crewed Orion capsule rather than by themselves. Only by 2027's Exploration Mission 6 would NASA launch more massive payloads, by which time SpaceX's BFR could take 150 tons to TLI or even Mars when using in-orbit refueling.

Related: NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1
Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
President Trump Praises Falcon Heavy, Diminishes NASA's SLS Effort


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  • (Score: 2) by Uncle_Al on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:04PM (2 children)

    by Uncle_Al (1108) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:04PM (#659686)

    Buy two.. buy four..

    But that's not the point, oink, oink oink!

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by qzm on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:14PM (1 child)

      by qzm (3260) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:14PM (#659689)

      SLS carries THOUSANDS of times more pork, and as we know Pork delivery has, for some time, been the primary mission goal of NASA.

      I know the NASA lovers will hate on this, but face facts people, NASA has all but become a butchery, to distribute nice clean juicy pork to whoIever it is decided.
      I do truly feel sorry for the remaining actual space scientists and engineers caught up in there.. It must be truly painful to have to try and achieve something against that massive pork distribution bureaucracy.

      The US military of course is still a more effective pork delivery tool, however at times you need cleaner pork than they can deliver, and the NASA pork is so clean and shiny and media-worthy!

      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:52PM

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:52PM (#659736) Journal

        That's it right there.

        SLS gets so much money that it can afford to stuff the right pockets. Grease the right palms. Etc.

        --
        Islamic Fatwas = BAD; MAGA Fatwas for FBI and Judges = GOOD ?
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:06PM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:06PM (#659687)

    Then, let the taxpayer choose whether or not he wants to invest a private space company to do this or that.

    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 29 2018, @01:39AM (3 children)

      by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 29 2018, @01:39AM (#659807)

      How about paying your taxes remains mandatory to mitigate the freeloader problem, but YOU get to decide how it's allocated, and least in terms of agencies, maybe even with finer-grained control?

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29 2018, @10:10AM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29 2018, @10:10AM (#659905)

        That's why crowdfunding works: It's all or nothing.

        There's no risk. If you can't raise the funds from a sufficient number of people, nobody pays anything. It's a good way to find those projects that actually do have widespread, meaningful support.

        Put another way: Why should this one particular organization (the one that calls itself "government") receive a mandated amount of allocations? It's absurd.

        • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29 2018, @04:51PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29 2018, @04:51PM (#660046)

          I wonder what would happen if you tried e.g. to crowdsource the expenses of the prison system for next year, and would fail to get the required amount. Would all prisoners be set free?

        • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday April 03 2018, @03:39PM

          by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday April 03 2018, @03:39PM (#661995)

          Because we got together and decided we wanted various assurances as a society.

          Police and courts to restrain violent individuals, maintain the illusion of private property, enforce contracts, etc.
          Roads, sewers, etc. that are extremely monopoly-prone and almost guaranteed to engage in predatory business practices if left to the "free market"
          And hey, lets add in some degree of enforcement of free market as well - we've got regulatory capture, but it still mitigates insider trading, collusion, etc.
          And on, and on, and on.

          You are of course free to opt out if you wish - but societies are regional things, so you'll need to move to another society's territory to do so.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by khallow on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:17PM (13 children)

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:17PM (#659691) Journal

    In response, Gerstenmaier pointed Hale and other members of the advisory committee—composed of external aerospace experts who provide non-binding advice to the space agency—to a chart he had shown earlier in the presentation. This chart showed the payload capacity of the Space Launch System in various configurations in terms of mass sent to the Moon. "It's a lot smaller than any of those," Gerstenmaier said, referring to the Falcon Heavy's payload capacity to TLI, or "trans-lunar injection," which effectively means the amount of mass that can be broken out of low-Earth orbit and sent into a lunar trajectory. In the chart, the SLS Block 1 rocket has a TLI capacity of 26 metric tons. (The chart also contains the more advanced Block 2 version of the SLS, with a capacity of 45 tons. However, this rocket is at least a decade away, and it will require billions of dollars more to design and develop.)

    That's a dishonest answer as usual. Rockets don't need large TLI capacity for Lunar expeditions. Assemble the rocket in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), and then when fully assembled, fueled, tested, and loaded, send it on its way. Each launch of the reusable version of the Falcon Heavy puts 54 metric tons in orbit for around $90 million. 108 metric tons is ample for a lunar mission, sortie, settlement, or just unmanned cargo. A billion dollars per launch of the SLS, putting a mere 45 metric tons to TLI, could instead be 11 launches of the Falcon Heavy with 600 metric tons in LEO (or 200 metric tons in TLI, for what that's worth). And once you have something in LEO, you can accelerate with engines a lot more efficient than chemical engines. Solar-electric propulsion could put the great majority of that 600 metric tons in LLO (Low Lunar Orbit), but would have to be unmanned (repeated passes through the Van Allen belts).

    My view is the following. Develop multiple standard vehicle chassis for manned and unmanned flights. The Falcon Heavy is apparently intended for unmanned work so use it strictly for that with manned flights from Earth going up on either the Falcon 9, Atlas V Heavy, or even the Ariane 6.

    Let's suppose for starters that one does a standard one-size-fits-all approach. Two Falcon Heavy launches to bring up rocket stages and propellant and a Falcon 9 launch to bring up a Dragon capsule (which wouldn't be launched until the rest of the vehicle has been checked for safety problems). Because passage through the Van Allen belts needs to be quick for passengers, right there we're stuck in the near future with chemical propulsion. 108 tons would cover acceleration to TLI, then in three days deceleration to LLO. The lunar landing stage could either come up with the manned Dragon capsule or with the other two payloads. Thus, for the cost of gear and somewhere around 200-250 million in launch costs, we can put six people and a fair bit of payload on the Moon with the SpaceX family.

    Unmanned in this light would be about the same. However, as I noted above, if one is willing to take longer, say six months, one could send a lot of radiation insensitive gear and materials via solar-electric propulsion to LLO with most of the payload making it to LLO (maybe 60-80 metric tons at the end). It would even be possible to reuse the solar-electric system for further trips to the Moon, though obviously the vehicle would take some time to return to LEO and you would lose some of your payload mass.

    But instead, NASA is insisting on the Apollo approach despite it not making sense from either a safety or economic standpoint. The reason is painfully obvious. Because that approach requires the SLS's unusual capabilities. Specifying capabilities that rule out cheaper, more sensible approaches is a common US government tactic, not only used by NASA.

    Consider this. Suppose you want to deliver a 50 pound cost from point A to point B on a continent. Ok, all you need to do is pay a shipper and it's there in a few days.

    Now, let's add on the totally innocuous requirement that it needs to travel by road. Shipper can still do that and the rate probably won't change. Now, let's add on the requirement that the box can't be traveling any slower than 200 MPH. Oops, now we're talking relay teams of super cars. Adding requirements massively increased the cost by many orders of magnitude.

    This is the game. Keep adding requirements to the task, until only your desired solution can handle them. NASA doesn't need to throw 45 metric tons to TLI in one go, but by doing so, they rule out the far cheaper Falcon Heavy in favor of the SLS.

    This is precisely the sort of crap that NASA shouldn't be doing in the first place. It shouldn't be a willing enabler of a really bad and dangerous system when there's far better at hand.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:19PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:19PM (#659692)

      SpaceX and each of its engineers will be forced at the point of a gun to fund a competing launch vehicle. It's insane. It's anti-American (in philosophy, not history). It's anti-Capitalism.

    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:41PM (3 children)

      by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:41PM (#659701)

      As someone pointed out in the ARS comments: Can't use FH, because the lunar pieces are designed to be launched on SLS, because SLS needs the lunar pieces to be designed to be launched on SLS, and NASA needs the SLS to be funded for the rest of NASA to be funded.

      Would it save money to launch multiple pieces on FH ? Apparently yes, but let's spend half a dozen years studying the changes required first, while we spend billions per year building the SLS and all the other pieces. Then we can all agree that the other way would have been cheaper, but since we already have those things almost (yet never quite) ready for the moon, it's that, or wait another 20 years, or learn Chinese...
      What? It would still be cheaper with FH and 5 years of delays, then with billion-per-launch SLS? Look, dude ... Wait, where are you building those engines, again?

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:47PM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:47PM (#659702)

        Get the government out of Space Exploration.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:09PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:09PM (#659743)

          Why? What is your problem? Deep State for Deep Space, I always say!

          • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday March 29 2018, @04:37PM

            by bob_super (1357) on Thursday March 29 2018, @04:37PM (#660034)

            Probably the AC who will explain that only by individual humans having mutual agreed contracts with the aliens, likely enforced by Vogons, will we be able to happily colonize the galaxy.

    • (Score: 1) by tftp on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:10PM (2 children)

      by tftp (806) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:10PM (#659716) Homepage
      Is FH certified to fly humans?
      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:19PM

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:19PM (#659721) Journal

        It doesn't need to be. F9 and BFR will be used instead. F9 will get certified before SLS flies even once.

        The SLS strategy of flying cargo and crew on the same Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway missions is a consequence of the effective $3 billion per launch cost, and the political desire to get some degree of manned spaceflight using the SLS in the short term.

        --
        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2, Informative) by khallow on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:43PM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:43PM (#659763) Journal
        It isn't. I recall hearing Musk say that FH wouldn't fly manned unless SpaceX can't get the BFR to work.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29 2018, @06:06PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29 2018, @06:06PM (#660105)

      Do do they already assemble, fuel, test, and launch vehicles from LEO, or are you purposefully burying the NRE for that and hand-waiving it away? What kind of platform do you need to "just do" all this wonderful stuff you just mentioned? A second space station, maybe, or one a whole lot bigger? You're using the exact argument the SLS is using: once this is developed, built and in use, you'll save a lot of money.

      • (Score: 2, Informative) by khallow on Thursday March 29 2018, @07:37PM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @07:37PM (#660157) Journal

        Do do they already assemble, fuel, test, and launch vehicles from LEO

        Yes. For example, the International Space Station has done all that though much of it at a much smaller scale than would be done with the Falcon Heavy. While we would need to prove the appropriate infrastructure (which probably would involve cryogenic storage which is less, once it's done, it's done. It's a one-time risk that is retired once you've done it.

        And the level of assembly needed is very crude - at the level of Apollo which has done a couple dozen successful docking maneuvers in TLI and LLO.

        Meanwhile the enhanced risks and cost of SLS happen every mission. You can't retire them. They never go away because they never launch the SLS vehicles often enough to do so.

    • (Score: 2) by turgid on Thursday March 29 2018, @08:50PM (2 children)

      by turgid (4318) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @08:50PM (#660187) Journal

      That's a dishonest answer as usual. Rockets don't need large TLI capacity for Lunar expeditions. Assemble the rocket in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), and then when fully assembled, fueled, tested, and loaded, send it on its way.

      And do you want to go to the Moon in 5 years or 25 years? When was the last time anyone had the technology (developed, tested, reliable) to assemble large rockets in orbit?

      Everything's easy when you're a bean counter.

      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 29 2018, @09:25PM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @09:25PM (#660207) Journal

        And do you want to go to the Moon in 5 years or 25 years?

        Falcon Heavy flies right now. SLS may never fly.

      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 29 2018, @09:39PM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @09:39PM (#660213) Journal
        I'll also note that we could have already had a lunar presence, if we had done such assembly with the variety of 20-25 metric ton rockets available to us around the world. It'd be more work, but it's something we could have started in 1970 rather than 2022.

        I think that bears repeating. We could have had several SpaceXs created in 1970 instead of 2002. All that crazy space stuff could be done by now rather than still being some indefinite 5 years, 25 years, or maybe longer in our future.

        My view is that there is no manned lunar program because it's not going to survive the funding drain from SLS. Kill SLS, stake through the heart, then we have money to work with.
  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by legont on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:54PM (13 children)

    by legont (4179) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @09:54PM (#659706)

    The real reason of-course is that NASA provides Space X with expensive research and personnel training. Space X would never be able to develop anything at all without NASA and Russian technology and expertise almost freely available to them.

    Fast forwarding to now, Space X is still not able to do it and needs deep pockets of the US taxpayers to do the heavy lifting.

    More generally, capitalism can not seriously innovate; just improve technology discovered on government financing of one sort or another. If you don't agree just recall the work of Royal Society of London or more recently invention of the Internet..

    --
    "Wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding" - John Kenneth Galbraith.
    • (Score: 2) by pe1rxq on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:08PM (4 children)

      by pe1rxq (844) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:08PM (#659713) Homepage

      While I agree with you that real advances can benifit greatly from government funded research, there is a difference here: NASA is not doing much fundamental research with SLS, it is pretty much doing stuff already proven before.
      NASA should be building new stuff that is not yet ready for commercial exploitation, for example a project like Skylon.

      • (Score: 2) by legont on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:28PM (3 children)

        by legont (4179) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:28PM (#659724)

        Perhaps, I don't really know what NASA is doing lately and I agree it should do new risky stuff. However, NASA already invested heavily into subsidiaries who work on the project. Are they inefficient? Perhaps. Will Space X be more efficient over the long run? Highly unlikely. The more likely scenario is that Mask will suck the same and then some more; much more. I may be wrong, but regardless let Mask prove himself for a decade or so. Meantime we should increase NASA budget like 10X.

        --
        "Wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding" - John Kenneth Galbraith.
        • (Score: 2) by qzm on Thursday March 29 2018, @07:21AM (1 child)

          by qzm (3260) on Thursday March 29 2018, @07:21AM (#659876)

          Spotted the NASA contractor.
          Is that pork nice and tasty?

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29 2018, @06:15PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29 2018, @06:15PM (#660112)

            Holy crap, assholes like you are the reason we can't have nice things anymore. It should be obvious to you that when the last arrow in your quiver is the "you're a paid shill!", it is clear to the rest of us that you've lost. You should at least try to save what shred of dignity you have by not loosing that arrow.

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 29 2018, @07:48PM

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @07:48PM (#660164) Journal

          However, NASA already invested heavily into subsidiaries who work on the project.

          NASA would be even better invested, if it cut off the Space Shuttle supply chain altogether. There are so many decision points where NASA could have made the right choice, in the early 1970s, they could have chosen not to build the Space Shuttle. In 1990, after the Challenger accident, they could have ended the program then. Again in 2005 after the Columbia accident and when it became quite clear the Space Shuttle couldn't continue (too few Shuttles to handle another Shuttle loss). Then finally in 2011 after the final Shuttle flight. It's a disgrace that those subsidiaries are still funded now.

          I may be wrong, but regardless let Mask prove himself for a decade or so. Meantime we should increase NASA budget like 10X.

          Just so they can waste 10X on the crap they already waste it on? Show me that NASA can handle that responsibility first. It also would be acceptable to put the money into a new organization that can do the job. Else 5-6% of US GDP on space is not sustainable. It's going to be killed off just like Apollo was.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:16PM (2 children)

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:16PM (#659718) Journal

      The real reason of course is that Congress forces NASA to continue developing the expensive pork rocket and there's still money to be squeezed out of the program.

      Fast forwarding to now, SpaceX has developed Falcon Heavy with private capital.

      SpaceX has accomplished something that NASA hasn't: the landing and reuse of rocket boosters. It is a revolutionary technology built on top of previous ones. In other news, the smartphone required the inventions of the Colossus computer, the voltaic pile, and blacksmithing.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2) by legont on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:38PM (1 child)

        by legont (4179) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @10:38PM (#659729)

        Forgive me, but space Shuttle was fully recoverable including boosters. Granted, Space X got an impressive way of landing more sophisticated rockets. Yes, nice improvement

        BTW, here is a different Russian design https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baikal_(rocket_booster) [wikipedia.org] I've heard Mask is looking at it as well.

        --
        "Wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding" - John Kenneth Galbraith.
        • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday March 29 2018, @05:10PM

          by bob_super (1357) on Thursday March 29 2018, @05:10PM (#660060)

          > space Shuttle was fully recoverable including boosters

          Sure, in the sense that your car stolen for a joyride is fully recoverable after you fix the bumpers, get new shocks, rims, tires, brakes, coolant, and maybe transmission, and pay some poor sod to clean the vomit inside.

          "Hey, it floats after splashdown, so we can drag it back to shore and refurbish it" isn't exactly the same as "it's in the parking spot, you need to fuel it and check the oil and tires"

          Even the orbiter went through a pretty extensive refit every time, despite not going into the drink.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by khallow on Thursday March 29 2018, @12:14AM (4 children)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @12:14AM (#659779) Journal

      The real reason of-course is that NASA provides Space X with expensive research and personnel training. Space X would never be able to develop anything at all without NASA and Russian technology and expertise almost freely available to them.

      That's so insulting. Sorry, NASA's "free" stuff is not that useful. The problem is in the label "expensive research". It's a long way from that to "cheap, mass-produced rocket", an area in which NASA has zero history. You'll need to look to the US Department of Defense for that sort of expertise with their ICBM programs.

      Here's what NASA itself [nasa.gov] had to say about the SpaceX development effort for the Falcon 9 (see Appendix B, page 40):

      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.

      Notice that the traditional pricing is still the official traditional pricing and that NASA looked at SpaceX's books to verify their costs. So NASA would price development of the Falcon 9, a full order of magnitude higher than it took SpaceX. And then, of course, we would have inevitable cost overruns on top of that.

      Fast forwarding to now, Space X is still not able to do it and needs deep pockets of the US taxpayers to do the heavy lifting.

      While SpaceX is not similarly forthcoming about the costs of Falcon Heavy (it's over half a billion USD) or BFR, this has all been paid for by SpaceX not US taxpayers. I think the only development that has been explicitly paid for by NASA was the Dragon capsule and that was by milestone not cost plus.

      More generally, capitalism can not seriously innovate; just improve technology discovered on government financing of one sort or another. If you don't agree just recall the work of Royal Society of London or more recently invention of the Internet.

      Well, now that you know that SpaceX did something that NASA was completely incapable of doing, you'll correct that thinking, right? I'll also note that SpaceX did the most awesome car commercial of all time, and has done really well with vertical landing of its rocket stages and a level of rocket reusability that everyone thought was going to be out of reach for at least decades.

      • (Score: 2) by legont on Thursday March 29 2018, @12:57AM (3 children)

        by legont (4179) on Thursday March 29 2018, @12:57AM (#659794)

        I think you got me wrong. Sure, Space X as any good capitalist enterprise can and will, well, capitalize on a good bag of inventions. They will mass produce and they will cut costs and they will make lots of money out of it but, but, they can not innovate and they will need innovations for the next step which probably will not be done by Space X, but some other company. Regardless, they will need serious research that only governments can provide and that's why we need to keep NASA projects going even if they are, supposedly, 10X more expensive. Otherwise China or Russia will discover those yet unknown things and Space X or whatever will not be able to keep up. That's how real world works. Government has to provide silver lining for companies to be able to function.

        There is nothing insulting in there. Business can only exist in the right environment and good scientific research and cutting edge development is a necessary part of it. Business by itself can't do it no matter how well run.

        --
        "Wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding" - John Kenneth Galbraith.
        • (Score: 4, Interesting) by khallow on Thursday March 29 2018, @05:51AM

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @05:51AM (#659854) Journal

          Sure, Space X as any good capitalist enterprise can and will, well, capitalize on a good bag of inventions. They will mass produce and they will cut costs and they will make lots of money out of it but, but, they can not innovate and they will need innovations for the next step which probably will not be done by Space X, but some other company.

          I disagree. Here, SpaceX did extensive innovation to get where it is now. It's demeaning to claim that the national space programs laid out various things like vertical landing, staged combustion, reusability, telemetry, secondary payloads, etc, like Legos on the floor, and like a toddler, SpaceX merely had to assemble these things in a suitable order. Even if idea generation were somehow beyond the capabilities of a company (and it's not), the creation of a viable business operating at a far lower price point from a haphazard collection of ideas going back 50 years (which no one else had figured out yet) is a huge act of innovation in itself. Remember innovation is not just coming up with ideas, but making them work.

          But then we get to the second problem, which is the equally demeaning assertion that SpaceX (and the rest of the planet's businesses) can't come up with new ideas. Here, Musk claims to be planning Mars infrastructure for a settlement and he's far from alone in that. That's innovation that NASA has barely touched.

          Regardless, they will need serious research that only governments can provide and that's why we need to keep NASA projects going even if they are, supposedly, 10X more expensive.

          Well, right there we have the rate of idea creation slowed by a factor of ten merely because we involved NASA. That's a typical problem with the government approach.

          Notice that the story is about a NASA official ruling out a superior launch system merely because it can't perform a mostly irrelevant task (throw a particular amount of mass, 45 metric tons directly on a Trans-Lunar injection orbit). But what he doesn't mention is that there are several multiple launch configurations that can do the same job for about 700-800 million USD less in launch costs (unmanned 2-3 Falcon Heavies assembled in low Earth orbit (LEO) or 2 Falcon Heavies and a Falcon 9 for manned missions - the latter rocket would bring the people) and higher reliability. Also, by ending SLS right now, we would have considerable funds to devote to lunar activities now.

          There are superior alternate approaches such as creating a non-profit to do the research which removes most of the political rent-seeking and other conflicts of interest that come with government agencies and their contractors. But then one wouldn't be able to siphon off a enormous amount of public funds with little accountability.

        • (Score: 2) by fritsd on Thursday March 29 2018, @06:50PM (1 child)

          by fritsd (4586) on Thursday March 29 2018, @06:50PM (#660131) Journal

          I think that it is NASA that cannot cooperate.

          Hear me out: there was some discussion about cooperation between ESA and the Chinese government. But: the US government forbids cooperation with Chinese in space, therefore ESA had to choose between USA and China.

          Similarly, the Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 were not coupled to the ISS. Why not? NASA is forbidden to do it.

          With that kind of attitude, it becomes very difficult to share research. Each country has their own competences. But why would e.g. a Russian psychology department or a Chinese hydroponic agriculture department cooperate with NASA, when at each given moment there could be a US senator that, for the home audience, writes a law "all cooperation on X with Russia or China is verboten"?

          There's no reason otherwise why we can't have a moon base with lots of independent bits constructed and launched by different countries, each with their own competences, but with the same interfaces: liquids and gases infrastructure, common wiring and airlock standards, etc. The idea of a "moon village" of this sort was mentioned in september 2017:
          Moon village the first stop to Mars: ESA [phys.org]

          I am not aware that any country except for the USA has any policies or laws in place like "we don't want to play ball with country X in space".

          Of course space projects are prestige projects that attract healthy competition between countries, but without healthy *cooperation* things don't advance beyond a certain point.
          Do you all remember the Apollo [wikipedia.org] - Soyuz [wikipedia.org] mission? That was a brilliant example of cooperation (well that's what the newspaper said; I have no idea of the bickering behind the scenes of course).

          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 29 2018, @08:02PM

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @08:02PM (#660173) Journal

            Hear me out: there was some discussion about cooperation between ESA and the Chinese government. But: the US government forbids cooperation with Chinese in space, therefore ESA had to choose between USA and China.

            So even if we were to ignore giving China an opportunity to steal US military and trade secrets (good enough reason for me to keep them off), why is international cooperation valuable at all? All it did was greatly increase the price tag on the ISS. My estimate is that between making the ISS international (particularly with Russia being on the critical path of ISS construction) and forcing most of the ISS to fly on the Space Shuttle, the cost of the ISS was tripled.

            There's no reason otherwise why we can't have a moon base with lots of independent bits constructed and launched by different countries, each with their own competences, but with the same interfaces: liquids and gases infrastructure, common wiring and airlock standards, etc.

            Or we could have a moon base operated by, say, a SpaceX spinoff. That would work just as well and be a lot cheaper for those international groups.

            Of course space projects are prestige projects that attract healthy competition between countries, but without healthy *cooperation* things don't advance beyond a certain point.

            They aren't progressing past that point now. Guess cooperation just isn't that healthy.

  • (Score: 2) by RamiK on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:30PM (5 children)

    by RamiK (1813) on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:30PM (#659755)

    Without SLS there won't be any space exploration. Every time a congressional budget committee will meet, they won't look at the mission budget and salivate thinking on all those greased pockets, jobs and voters, they'll instead question themselves, "Why waste millions on a dozen academic papers with no commercial applications?".

    That said, NASA missed the boat the moment commercial spaceflights became a thing. So, without some military-industrial complex interests materializing out of thin air, once the existing contractors finish getting paid their full bribes-worth, NASA will never see another mission budget again.

    Oh, well I guess here's something [foodnetwork.com] to hopefully justify this post.

    --
    compiling...
    • (Score: 2) by ilPapa on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:36PM (4 children)

      by ilPapa (2366) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 28 2018, @11:36PM (#659758) Journal

      That said, NASA missed the boat the moment commercial spaceflights became a thing.

      We're talking about a manned mission, and manned commercial spaceflights are not yet a "thing".

      --
      You are still welcome on my lawn.
      • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Thursday March 29 2018, @01:17AM

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday March 29 2018, @01:17AM (#659801) Journal

        The first flight of the SLS will be unmanned. That has been delayed repeatedly to no earlier than December 15, 2019. The second flight will be manned, scheduled for 2022. That's a very long time for either Falcon 9 or Atlas V to be certified for manned flights, and they could start sending manned flights to the ISS as soon as 2019.

        --
        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 4, Funny) by qzm on Thursday March 29 2018, @07:25AM (2 children)

        by qzm (3260) on Thursday March 29 2018, @07:25AM (#659878)

        Good point!
        How can spaceX ever hope to catch up with all those successful manned SLS launches we have been watching.....

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29 2018, @06:23PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29 2018, @06:23PM (#660118)

          I keep hearing about this SpaceX stuff, and I keep sitting out at their launch facility but I never see any launches! Surely they've built up an entire launch and ground facility to support these launches, correct? They're not just using other facilities are they? Tell me that's at least rolled into their launch costs? They haven't been launching at a loss either, have they, to establish themselves in the market?

          • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 29 2018, @08:05PM

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 29 2018, @08:05PM (#660176) Journal

            Tell me that's at least rolled into their launch costs?

            It is.

            They haven't been launching at a loss either, have they, to establish themselves in the market?

            Apparently through a few years ago, they were turning a mild profit from the COTS stuff even counting development costs up to that point. I get the feeling that development of the Falcon Heavy and the BFR has had them running at a loss over the past few years, but it seems manageable.

  • (Score: 2) by fritsd on Thursday March 29 2018, @07:00PM

    by fritsd (4586) on Thursday March 29 2018, @07:00PM (#660136) Journal

    I found the link for the ESA Moon Village idea:

    https://www.esa.int/About_Us/Ministerial_Council_2016/Moon_Village [esa.int]

    and this one:

    https://moonvillageassociation.org/about/ [moonvillageassociation.org]

    and another one:

    http://spaceref.com/moon/successful-first-international-moon-village-workshop-at-isu.html [spaceref.com].

    Of course it's very much "pie in the sky" at the moment. I like their idea, though.

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