16 thoughts on “An Alternate Reality”

  1. I had a senior guy in Huntsville last week claim that the Constellation system had closed the gap between its required performance and what it could actually do. When I stated that the architecture did not close, and never would, the comment was “well it is not our fault that the Altair is 9 tons overweight or that Orion is”.

    The ESAS architecture from day one had negative margin and never dug itself out of its hole.

  2. Even more irritating of late have been the DIRECT people over at NASASpaceflight. Their desire to have big, pretty boosters they they claim will save an expensive — and in this era of massive public pensions, *unsustainable* — workforce has become so single-minded, it borders on the bizarre.

  3. Nothing to be amazed at. Self interest trumps virtue these days. It doesn’t matter who you steal from as long as the government does it.

  4. I thought the main problem with Shuttle was the cost? Yet, it looks to me like Ares would (maybe, if it worked) achieve a far less capable vehicle at even higher cost… And with the current performance “gap”, I think Ares really could be the “Suborbital Taxi” one of the politicians mentioned.

    What I would really like to see is a lower cost vehicle for unmanned launches. Getting the cost per pound to LEO down is IMHO the most important factor there is.

  5. Yes, Ares would offer a lot less for a lot more money, at least in terms of LEO access (which is all that it does). Of course, some people think that a) the primary problem with Shuttle is safety and that b) Ares will be safe. But really, the problem wasn’t safety, per se (we have no shortage of astronauts) but reliability. We simply couldn’t afford to continue to lose orbiters. So instead we’ll throw everything away every flight, instead of just losing a vehicle once in a while, and spend a billion dollars each time. Brilliant.

  6. I was watching an old Disney episode (Man and the Moon) the other day and was struck by Von Braun’s vision of what space exploration would be like. The whole reusable shuttle-space staion thing that would be the spring board towards actual space exploration (in this case, it was a moon mission). His vision included a whole space based infrastructure that would allow for exploration on a long term time table. Kinda sad really.

  7. I would like to make another point. Doesn’t the optimum level of reliability in an orbital booster depend on what you are lofting? Given that the more reliable a booster is the more expensive it is, I submit that it would be in order to skimp on the testing, or even use a different design, for boosters being used to loft cheap bulk materials. How much do you really mind losing a tank full of LOX? As compared to a hundred-million-dollar comsat, that is.

    A similar point is that if you can repair orbital machinery it doesn’t have to be quite as reliable as it does if you can’t.

  8. Fletcher: yes, people have proposed simple expendable launchers for cheap bulk payloads such as propellants. They’d cut back on redundancy to reduce cost.

  9. The good old Russian Soyuz booster is the closest thing to the classic “Big Dumb Booster” (and I mean that in a good way) that anyone has ever built. Once they got through the initial teething troubles back in the mid 1960s, they just kept building and flying them dozens of times each year until the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the peak years, the Soviets launched up to 60 space missions a year and most were on the Soyuz booster or the derivative Molynia (added an additional upper stage). In all, they few something like 1600 combined Soyuz/Molynia missions with a success rate of over 96%. It’s even “man-rated”, at least to the Russian definition of the term. Despite being a relatively complicated design, they kept the costs down by not letting the engineers “improve” it endlessly and by building a lot of them. All things considered, it has to be the most successful rocket ever built and the price is pretty reasonable even with good reliability.

  10. Fletcher,
    Regarding the whole “design an ELV that isn’t as reliable for consumables” idea, I’ve never been that convinced. LVs are complicated enough that my guess is that if you shot for 80% reliability, you’d actually get closer to 50%. I’d rather have a small, high-flight-rate RLV for consumables anyway.


  11. I’d rather have a small, high-flight-rate RLV for consumables anyway.

    Jon, you realize, of course, that those words would have been unspeakable heresy to a ten-year-younger version of yourself…? 😉

    The really nice thing, of course, is that it’s a perfect payload to test out such a vehicle, before flying higher value…things, with very little risk to the customer.

  12. Again NASA’s budget is ~0.5% of the countries budget. You need to be focusing on bankers bonuses, entitlements, and wars if you are really concerned about the countries finances. Those costs dwarf NASAs costs by >100 times. I suspect your agenda won’t survive that kind of daylight though and that is why you won’t post this just like my last post.

  13. Robert, spending on welfare and medicare and public-sector pensions (the entitlements you mention) dwarfs all other US expenditures. If the health care bill is rammed through then spending on that will dwarf the other entitlement programs, doubling the total national debt every few years. If you read the last few weeks’ entries on TTM, you will see that Rand is indeed concerned about the country’s finances.

    Banker’s bonuses? That is spitting into a hurricane. Wars? How’s that 80-year-old War on Poverty working out for the USA?

    However, that has nothing to do with the topic of the post – that the supporters of the Shaft seem to equate NASA’s budget with “infinity”. A bad design is a bad design, and no amount of kludge money will make it work. Indeed, that kludge money lessens the ability of NASA to perform other, potentially more useful work.

Comments are closed.