Anti-American Forces At NASA?

Bob Zimmerman is concerned.

If it’s not the intent of this to aid Russia, that’s certainly the effect.

And yes, this is concerning:

But the sources familiar with the matter said the companies must address “most” of those concerns before flying astronauts and, eventually, tourists to space. [emphasis mine]

NASA has no business dictating what standards will be met for private spaceflight participants. Someone needs to stomp on this right now.

[Update a few minutes later]

And just by coincidence, as NASA continues to want to purchase more rides from the Russians, another Fregat upper stage failed today.

[Late-morning update]

Looks like while there may have been an anomaly, the mission was ultimately a success.

[Friday afternoon update]

Well, that piece by Reuters didn’t age well. Seems kind of dumb to have run it when the flight readiness review was scheduled for the very next day.


40 thoughts on “Anti-American Forces At NASA?”

  1. This is dumb and, frankly, dangerous to our economy and to our opportunities in space. Do it now, while the U.S. retains a commanding lead in space. Let our market do the heavy lifting. The heck with NASA and the rest of the government.

  2. NASA will provide Coverage

    This is like learning CBS will provide Coverage of the NFL’s Super Bowl. Sure, it is positive that NASA will air the launch, but where I can’t get NASA TV anywhere, I can pick up coverage of SpaceX flights wherever I tend to be. Here, NASA TV is like ESPN, CBS, FOX to the NFL, a middleman making a buck off of a product that just as easily can be delivered straight to the customer.

    design risks threaten new delays

    First, I find if funny that Reuters provides a link to a tiny url with a “.rs” domain. I realize “.ru” is actually Russia (.rs is Serbia), but funny none the less, particularly for Zimmerman’s arguments.

    Then there is a simple fact that this first launch is a test flight. Certainly, some redesign efforts can come out of a test flight. That’s why you test. Testing is cheaper than analysis, because you obtain physical data, and a flight test is the best test, because you obtain real environment data. Fair enough, NASA has been conducting parachute tests for Orion since before the first Dragon flew. I’m sure they are still conducting parachute tests for Orion. They conducted parachute tests for X-38 as well. And of course NASA has lots of parachute data from Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. While landing and decel is a critical activity in human spaceflight; the only failures of parachute systems have been on Soyuz, 52 years ago. Unless it is a Lockheed Martin sample return capsule; I feel comfortable that the aerospace industry has a good grasp on how to design parachutes. Even so, there are 10 more parachute tests planned for Dragon before human spaceflight, and any of them can result in design changes. After 17 previous tests, I’m sure such changes will be minor details with trivial to non-existent delays.

    I also find dubious that SpaceX, which can land a rocket on water straight up and down even with failed hydraulics; has a faulty attitude control system for keeping Dragon pointing up after landing. It is possible. But I repeat; that’s a good reason for a test flight. And I suspect the fix for such a system will take far less time and treasure than NASA has spent on fixing JWST.

    The real high risk is to NASA’s (and RSA’s) budget if SpaceX has a good flight test.

    1. Does this mean that SpaceX and NASA will be providing competing launch day programs? I’d rather watch SpaceX, they have the best launch day coverage of all the launchers.

      A better approach would be co-coverage, with some NASA people going on SpaceX’s program and then both parties broadcasting the same thing. Maybe that is what will happen. Or maybe not as it is a government program and NASA wants all the glory.

      1. I’d rather watch SpaceX, they have the best launch day coverage of all the launchers.

        I know, right! I’m afraid NASA TV will be more like ESPN, but instead of fewer actual sports programs, it will be fewer launches while they feel their 24 hours with social programming. Lots of talk, little action.

  3. NASA has no business dictating what standards will be met for private spaceflight participants.

    It is tough to tell from the article but maybe that was just a throw away line. Journalists always try and squeeze in information. So, maybe it was the author trying to tie in that these capsules will also be used for tourists?

    There are two situations that I can see NASA playing an acceptable role in private spaceflight. First, if ISS will be used to house them. Second, if the companies themselves are interested in the partnership to build up gravitas as part of their marketing. But, I can’t really see how there would be any additional requirements than what would be considered safe for the capsule’s primary cargo, NASA astronauts.

  4. I’m inclined to agree with a couple of commenters at the linked article who say that this has more to do with Orion than the Russians. If not one but two private capsules are flying astronauts before Orion gets off the ground, it not only calls into question all the money spent on Orion, it is also embarrassing for NASA.

    Back in 1930, the British government ordered two dirigibles, the R-100 and the R-101. The R-100 was government-funded but built by private industry, while the R-101 was built by the government. The R-100 worked pretty well for the few flights it made, while the R-101 was plagued with problems.

    After the R-101 suffered a fatal crash, the British government ordered the R-100 broken up for scrap. Governments don’t like to be embarrassed.

  5. I agree with some of Zimmerman’s commenters that the real motive here is SLS (and as said above, Orion). I disagree with Zimmerman that it doesn’t matter; motive always matters. However, Zimmerman is right that the biggest beneficiary is a hostile foreign power, Russia.

    The utter illogic would result in howling mobs in a sane world. Even from a view where safety is the only consideration, this makes no sense because so long as SpaceX and Boeing’s capsules are safer than Soyuz, they are an improvement in safety.

    And, let’s talk about Orion. That overpriced disaster has safety issues of its own, ones that NASA seems not to mind. And, if current plans hold, the EM-1 test flight won’t have the same heat shield they plan for the first manned flight, nor will it have a functioning life support system.

    So, the first real test of a complete Orion will be a manned flight around the moon, with an untested life support system, followed by a 25,000 mph lunar return reentry on a never-flown heat shield. But, this is the same NASA squawking about safety?

    I also have to wonder what’s the proper response to vague concerns? Maybe some vague redesigns done with vague engineering, followed by a few vague tests?

    1. “so long as SpaceX and Boeing’s capsules are safer than Soyuz, they are an improvement in safety.”
      Exactly that.
      If doing this again the contract should stipulate that the vendors decide when to fly and simply deliver a tested launch system to the customer.
      Much of aircraft certification is actually done “in house” by the manufacturer and as the FAA has admitted the engineers there know more than the FAA does..

    2. It’s the double standard that is frustrating.

      The argument that “Well, we have more insight into the design and operation of our own vehicle than we do Dragon” doesn’t really wash. It’s become pretty clear that NASA has all the insight it wants into any aspect of Dragon and Falcon 9 design and operation.

    3. It could be the double standard arises not because NASA wants to impede SpaceX or Boeing but because they have the power to make these companies do what NASA wished they could do. Would NASA prefer to do more testing of SLS and its components including more flight tests?

      It doesn’t matter what they want because the money isn’t there and they don’t get to make all the decisions.

      SpaceX can do more testing because of how they do design iterations and testing funded by a larger customer base than NASA. This has allowed them to position in such a way that Dragon Crew testing is cheaper than it would have been if they used expendable rockets or if there were similarities between crew and cargo Dragons. This system falls apart a little at this point because they aren’t servicing non-NASA crew customers yet.

      Boeing is well situated to accommodate the demands because of their skilled workforce, deep pockets, and skill at working government contracts. There is no danger they go out of business as the process drags on. They are happy to go at NASA’s pace as long as the checks don’t bounce. And ULA is still chugging along making money from launches.

      NASA just can’t operate as either of these two companies do when it comes to SLS development. They can’t self fund development through servicing a market and not only would they be terrible at it, they would destroy market signals for competition and a government owned company isn’t even something people should want.

      1. “This system falls apart a little at this point because they aren’t servicing non-NASA crew customers yet.”
        Ohhh boy, am I licking my chops for that day.

  6. What happened with the prior rumors that NASA was delaying it to try to get Boeing to fly first?
    I agree that this launch was delayed more than it should have. But it is not to say that some of this delay was not the services suppliers’ fault. Take into consideration the Falcon 9 second stage issues with the helium tank a couple years back for example. Perhaps NASA’s concerns are not as far fetched as we take them to be. Still I agree that there should have been a test launch earlier since this would have helped allay some of the concerns.

      1. The Dragon on that launch would have probably survived without a LAS, had they been able to get the parachutes to open. They’ve since changed the software so that in similar circumstances, the cargo
        Dragon can be commanded to pop the chutes.

        My guess is that Dragon 2 is as survivable without a LAS, and much more so with one.

        But, NASA evidently thinks (or claims to) that flying on Soyuz is safer – it’s not like they end up with mystery holes drilled though the hull, or blowing up in flight with crew aboard… oh, wait…

        1. You, I think, are referring to the CRS-7 in-flight failure while Ed was referencing the Amos-6 pad explosion. Both of you are right anent the survivability of these accidents had they occurred with a manned D2.

          Anent the Amos-6 explosion specifically, SpaceX has since conducted more than three dozen successful launches of F9’s and one FH with the same COPV design as used on the Amos-6 vehicle, but with modifications to the pressurant loading procedure. It has also conducted at least four successful launches of F9 Block 5 vehicles with the new COPV design developed in the wake of the Amos-6 accident. That NASA ASAP is still whinging about this is not a sign of “concern” but of active interference.

    1. When they ran down the schedule of traffic and EVA’s at ISS in the coming months, it became pretty clear that there’s simply no window for Starliner’s test flight to launch any sooner than May. Further, the mention of Starliner’s crewed test flight being late this year suggests that Boeing is still significantly behind SpaceX.

      I think the flag is still there for SpaceX to grab first if nothing goes wrong.

      1. Yes. If Boeing hadn’t had that resonance-induced valve failure on its launch escape system test, all the NASA foot-dragging aimed at SpaceX might have actually worked – i.e., allowed Boeing to go first to ISS with crew. Now, it would seem, the foot-draggers at NASA are about out of reasons to slow-roll D2. Once next week’s unmanned test is completed I expect a full-court SpaceX press to get the in-flight abort done in April as per Elon’s recent tweet. That, in turn, enables a second SpaceX full-court press aimed at getting the DM-2 mission moved forward as well. Even moving it up to June would be good. May would be better. Especially if it proves possible to schedule DM-2 ahead of Boeing’s initial unmanned outing for Starliner.

        1. I think it would just be fun if USCV-1 (SpaceX’s *second* crewed flight) took place before the Starliner Crew Flight Test.

    2. That was the old rumor but now people are rumoring NASA wants to slow both companies down.

      It could just be NASA incompetence rather than some nefarious ulterior motive.

      1. Except that new “issues” with D2 seem to keep being discovered – or a burst of fresh whinging about old ones trotted out – each time Boeing suffers a reverse on Starliner. All that drama about powered D2 landings happened while Boeing was scrambling – at least by Boeing standards – to fix serious aerodynamic issues with Starliner. When that proved insufficient, SpaceX’s load-and-go propellant loading procedure was put in the crosshairs. The latest burst of high-profile whinging and shade-throwing anent D2 – COPV redux, etc. – has occurred since Boeing’s escape thruster test went sideways. As with temperature “adjustments” by “climate scientists” always being in the direction of making the present seem hotter and the past seem colder, the fact that all of SpaceX’s “problems” seem to be found just when Boeing needs another chance to catch up suggests not incompetence at NASA so much as it does a big NASA thumb on the scale.

    3. I have serious doubts that those rumors were ever well founded. If anything, somebody at NASA might have wanted to delay both projects until Orion flew, or see them cancelled altogether in favor of Orion. I have no evidence whatsoever of any such motivation on anybody’s part, I can just see it happening. On the other hand though, if the rumors were true, it could be that Boeing’s assorted delays just made it impossible to keep SpaceX from flying first.

  7. As many have said above, the simplest explanation is that supporters of Orion-SLS are at work. It’s bizarre that Zimmerman would see it as a Russian conspiracy, given that he has pooh-poohed any suggestion of Russian interference in US politics.

    1. Russia has been interfering in US politics since at least 1920. It was in 1919 that Portland’s own John Reed was caught trying to smuggle $millions in jewelry back to the US,( and relieved of it at the Finnish border), in order to finance a US Communist Party. His rich father got him out of that. Other means of funding were used later. The last cashed checks from 1985, found in the KGB archives, to the head of the US Communist Party were for $3.5 million. They were doing it then, and since Putin rose to power during the Clinton Administration’s tenure, they’re doing it now.

      What Bob Zimmerman has laughed at is that Putin’s “Great Russia” Kremlin rulers wanted a man in office who has convinced our allies into increasing NATO countries’ defense spending, and moved toward backing Ukraine far more deeply, and supported Poland and the Baltic States, and begun the organization of a US Space Force in response to the “Space Troops” of the Russian Aerospace Force being stood up in 2015 alongside the PLA’s “Strategic Support Force”, both of those tasked with space war and cyber war. Bob *should* laugh at such blither.

      1. I don’t understand Zimmerman’s point: none of the things mentioned is particularly relevant, since they’re all after the election. We do know that *during the campaign*, Trump’s people met with the Russians about the election (e.g., Vesilnitskaya meeting at Trump Tower) — and felt they had to lie about (“We didn’t talk to the Russians”; “OK, we talked to the Russians, but it was about adoptions”; “OK, we talked about the election, but anybody would have taken that meeting”). We also know that the campaign’s one-time manager, Manafort, had previously worked for pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. We know that Trump has done business in Russia and was discussing Trump Tower Moscow into 2016. Given Trump’s record with debt, it’s hard not to wonder what legitimate entity would have been willing to lend him money. And, while it’s not illegal for Trump to not release his tax returns (despite having said he would), it’s the next worst thing, given the strength of the tradition. None of this proves anything, but it smells bad. I don’t understand how Zimmerman can laugh at all of that.

    2. I’m guessing, but I suspect Zimmerman was playing with the “NASA Resistance”, as they call themselves. A bunch of supposed NASA civil servants who wish to act against Trump because “Russia, Russia, Russia!” and their gal pal Hillary losing.

    3. He doesn’t see it as a “Russian conspiracy,” he sees it as a home-grown NASA conspiracy against SpaceX by SLS, Boeing and ULA partisans within NASA that has, as a side-effect, the modest advancement of Russian interests as well.

    4. Zimmerman made a clarifying comment about this. It isn’t that NASA intends to help Russia but that the effect of their course of action helps Russia whether it is intended or not.

      1. You’re right. I’ve re-read Zimmerman’s piece and see that while he mentions the Russians being beneficiaries, he does not say it’s a Russian plot. And, actually, Rand made the same point in his post here.

  8. Now that a law has been enacted ensuring no border wall will pass through SpaceX’s Boca Chica site, I can imagine that Orion-SLS partisans will attack SpaceX as being anti-American.

    1. They’ll do whatever they can, but I think the current anti-Spacex campaign amounts to little more than harrassing fire along the flanks, annoying, but not anything that will fundamentally blunt SpaceX’s forward march.

      I think the redesign and acceleration of the development schedule for SH-Starship amount to an undeclared war by SpaceX, in the person of Elon Musk, on the whole SLS-Orion combine including the political players abetting it in Congress. He’s been harassed by these people for years and I think has recently come to the conclusion that the only way to end this ceaseless sniping from the weeds is to destroy the object motivating it. I think Elon tried to ignore the chickenshit for as long as he could, because that is his general tendency. But he has now decided it’s time to go to the mattresses and kill SLS-Orion outright by standing up a working SH-Starship before SLS-Orion can fly even once. I’d say the odds of being able to pull this off now look to be on the order of three or four to one in Elon’s favor.

      1. That could be the outcome but it looks like he is just focusing on what he wants to get done and not to get tied down by government interference. Super Heavy and Spaceship weren’t conceived to service NASA but to self fund Musk’s Martian desires.

        With the Falcon 9 and Dragon, NASA had a stake in their development because they wanted something specific out of SpaceX, to shuttle crew and cargo to the ISS. In that relationship, it makes a lot of sense to be deeply entwined with their core customer. But Musk is the one who wants Super Heavy and Spaceship, not NASA. NASA has no plans that require it and they don’t know what to do with it.

        So, it could be that Super Heavy and Spaceship will put SLS down but I think the motivation is just Musk moving on toward what he wants to accomplish. I think NASA will use Super Heavy and Spaceship but not as a replacement for SLS rather to do entirely different things that they have not conceived of yet.

        1. There’s not much question that, in the absence of outside interference, Musk would prefer to just do SH-Starship for his own purposes. But the political players behind SLS-Orion and ULA see that – correctly, I think – as inimical to their continuing their slow-rolling gravy trains into the indefinite future.

          The initial fear of the ancien regime was that SpaceX would actually do FH – which is also seen as a threat to both SLS and ULA. When FH got sidetracked, the urgency of the anti-SpaceX campaign waned. But now FH has actually flown and is attracting missions. Furthermore, there are people (Zubrin, Plata) building notional mission architectures around it and agitating for their adoption as NASA policy that directly threaten SLS-Orion-Gateway.

          Plus, ITS/BFR, which the old-timers never really took seriously, is now suddenly a thing with a new name and a new look. So the campaign against SpaceX has recently been reheated after a couple years of relative dormancy.

          This explains the fresh spate of hit-piece “journalism” published in compliant outlets and the perpetual pearl clutching by ASAP over the long-since fixed COPV problem and all the other vaguely defined “issues” it has its panties in a twist about anent D2. It also explains the lack of any money going to SpaceX for LSA, the sudden out-of-left field IG enthusiasm for revisiting the F9 and FH EELV certification process and the threat to put a piece of Trump’s border wall across the launch pad at Boca Chica. All these little “presents” for SpaceX have “Made in Alabama” printed on their undersides.

          Elon has retaliated mainly by putting SpaceX on a war footing to push SH-Starship to completion in as little over a year as can be managed – less if possible. He’s also dragooned the perpetually sleepy and inattentive CA Congressional delegation into carrying a bit of water for him on the LSA front and has protested the Lucy mission award to ULA.

          Elon’s enemies are political so he has finally decided to hold his nose and wade into the swamp to fight them while rushing SH-Starship to completion soonest. With Congressional letters and contract protests as small caliber ammo, It seems Elon is trying to at least keep the Swamp critters’ heads down while he rolls out the really big gun that will change the political calculus decisively in his favor.

          1. Just think where US passenger aircraft would be today if Congress in the 1930’s had turned NACA into a national airline that built and operated its own planes, instead of focusing on basic aeronautical research. For vacation, you’d pack up the kids and drive to one of the national airports so you could gawk at the amazing plane that, on the rare occasions when it takes to the skies, can carry almost a hundred passengers.

          2. Now there’s a nice shudder-inducing thought!

            There were certainly people in the Roosevelt administration who would have been very much up for such an exercise. Had they succeeded, we likely would have lost WW2 and there would now be no U.S., never mind no U.S. aircraft industry.

  9. Why would you put a wall through something that already has a highly guarded fence around it? Also it is a mile from the border.

    You know what also has a highly guarded fence around it… NASA facilities all over the US. It wasn’t always the case. You used to be able to drive onto JSC, park at building 2, and walk in and see the museum there for free.

    1. The museum, hell you could walk into almost any building on site. There were signs directing you on self guided tours. I remember one time, I must have been 16 or 17, we were visiting my grandparents and I drove over there. I had dressed up, suit and tie. I blended in with a group of what were obviously business executives getting a VIP tour. I got to see a bunch of stuff not open to the public. But, that was all before the Muslims decided to try to blow up the world. You also used to be able to just walk in to the United States capitol and wander around.

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