Constellation Problems, Continued

“Rocketman” has thoughts related to yesterday’s post, here, and more details on last week’s Ames meeting:

First up for review was the preferred solution of a single plane attenuation system. It was believed to be the lightest weight band-aid available for the already overweight and underperforming stick. Architectural changes made to the segmented spaghetti-like stack have made it stiffer. That had the unfortunate side-effect of sending increased loads up to the crew compartment. Those loads are even higher than the seat-of-the-pants requirements loosened by fiat (and loosey-goosey analysis) from the accepted Gemini era 0.25 g peak to almost three times that value (0.7 g).

Scratch the goateed one’s favorite solution.

I know it’s popular and easy for some who don’t understand physics and engineering to say, “well we had problems on program X, and we managed to solve them,” without understanding that there are some technical problems that simply have no solution, regardless of how much time and money is put into them. Sometimes, all the potential solutions simply introduce new problems, or make the old ones worse, and you end up chasing your tail and failing to get the design to close. I don’t know if the Ares thrust-oscillation problem falls in that category, but the possibility cannot be excluded, and so far, it’s looking that way. And when that happens, the only solution is to go back to the drawing board, and start with a different concept.

A good engineer will recognize such problems early, and not waste too much time and money trying to solve them. As Einstein once said, a clever man will solve a problem — a wise man will avoid it. We had, and still have, at least for now, people running NASA’s human spaceflight development program who (as the Brits would say) are too clever by half.

Rocketman also thinks that the writing is on the wall:

All hailed and praised the rocket scientist with more degrees than fingers on our right hands. As the Kool-Aid flowed, we reveled in the plans to renew the minions’ skills for building cathedrals to the sky. We marveled at the safety numbers that flew out of the supercomputers. And we ignored the mounting number of little things that were “normal for a development program.” The steroids flowed, the oscillations increased, and the dollars disappeared.

Fast forward five years with nothing to show for the investments made so far. “Wait a little longer,” they say. “We’re getting our arms around this.” And the congressfolk from Florida push for more money to shower over the falls. And the Senator from Alabama holds up any investments in commercial opportunities so that his precious voters will hold on to their jobs.

But it is already too late. Indeed, the seal on the codex has been broken. All the President’s men do not carry rose colored glasses around with them. They see the forest for the trees.

Clark Lindsey has a summary of a Space News editorial by Bob Bigelow, that would appear to be explaining what should have been obvious to the Senator from Huntsville (who is also the Senator from Decatur, so I continue to be baffled why he doesn’t want to ramp up EELV production).

/– Talks about the overruns in Constellation
/– “Constellation appears to be yet another ill-conceived NASA boondoggle suffering from all too familiar runaway costs.”
/– Talks about the serious technical problems with Ares/Orion
/– Criticizes the reduction of Orion from 6 to 4 passengers.
/– Gives a vigorous defense of the accomplishments of SpaceX and its potential to provide low cost launch access.
/– Says Shelby made an error in ignoring the commercial access capabilities of the Atlas V, which is produced in Alabama.
/– “Bigelow Aerospace has studied human-rating of the Atlas 5 and found the concept to be both viable and economically attractive.”
/– The high reliability of the Atlas V undercuts Shelby’s comments about commercial launchers.
/– “Commercial crew transport, as demonstrated by SpaceX’s dramatic progress and the existing Atlas 5 launcher, represents a viable, affordable, and robust path forward.”
/– Talks about the many launch vehicle project failures at NASA.
/– “Moreover, to hear a Republican senator espouse the virtues of a bloated, costly government program over innovative commercial concepts is so paradoxical that it requires no further comment from me.”

Hey, since when did Republicans care about business, or markets? Not when it doesn’t suit their parochial political interests, for sure.

Norm Augustine and his panel have quite the challenge ahead of them.

10 thoughts on “Constellation Problems, Continued”

  1. who is also the Senator from Decatur, so I continue to be baffled why he doesn’t want to ramp up EELV production

    I’ve wondered about this too. Someone on NSF said it was white-collar jobs in Huntsville vs blue-collar jobs in Decatur. How does the political calculus work out for a Democrat-turned-Republican?

  2. There’s a simple explanation. If Shelby feels secure against potential challengers on next elections, he does not care about voters, he only cares about specific interests. His gamut of close friends is such that it disfavours ULA.

  3. If Shelby loses his seat next time round, does that mean MSFC will be gutted?

  4. But they wouldn’t have seniority. They would be just another freshman senator.

  5. The problem with markets is that the legislator can neither control which constituency will benefit from them nor take direct credit for any benefits received.

  6. Little birdies are saying that the 0.7 g loads are the reduced loads that the Ares/Orion now have to meet for crew performance. The problem is that this is lower than what the rocketboys from Huntsville/Houston can meet without active damping in the crew compartment as well as in the booster. Active damping is years and years and lots of money in the future.

  7. I think it fair to say that Senator Shelby is neither Republican nor Democrat.

    He is from the Lepetomaine Party, which is dedicated to preserving his phoney baloney job, and that of his toadies.

  8. Shelby is up for election next year. His last opponent was in favour of legalisation of marijuana. You know what to do. 🙂 Unfortunately, the guy was elected by a landslide last time round.

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