Category Archives: Space

The ASAP

wonders why NASA is considering crewing the first flight of SLS/Orion:

In a statement at the beginning of the Feb. 23 meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), chairwoman Patricia Sanders said that if NASA decides to put a crew on the first SLS/Orion launch, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), it must demonstrate that there is a good reason to accept the higher risks associated with doing so.

“We strongly advise that NASA carefully and cautiously weigh the value proposition for flying crew on EM-1,” she said. “NASA should provide a compelling rationale in terms of benefits gained for accepting additional risk, and fully and transparently acknowledge the tradeoffs being made before deviating from the approach for certifying the Orion/SLS vehicle for manned spaceflight.”

“If the benefits warrant the assumption of additional risk,” she added, “we expect NASA to clearly and openly articulate their decision-making process and rationale.”

The point of my book was not that NASA should simply be more accepting of risk, or be reckless, but balance the risk against the reward. In my opinion, accelerating commercial crew would be worth the risk, to end our dependence on Russia, and increase the productivity of the ISS. Redoing Apollo 8 half a century after the original as a political stunt would not.

[Update a little before 1 PM EST]

NASA is about to have a news conference, probably in response.

[Update post conference]

It was the Bills Gerstenmaier and Hill. Gerst is always deadpan, but one had the impression that he’s not enthusiastic. They’re doing a feasibility study because the White House asked, and won’t be making any recommendations, just describing would it would take in terms of changes in schedule and budget. They just want to see “if they can fly crew sooner.” They expect to have some answers in a month or so (presumably as part of the input for FY2018 budget request). I wish the White House would ask them if they could fly crew sooner on Dragon and Starliner. That would be worth doing.

I can’t believe I just typed the words “FY 2018 budget request.” Makes me feel old.

[Update a few minutes later]

[Update a few minutes later]

Here‘s Keith Cowing’s story.

[Early afternoon update]

And here‘s Eric Berger’s take.

[Update a while later]

And Joel Achenbach’s.

I’d note that the reason they would only have two crew is probably a) to reduce the number of losses if it doesn’t go well and b) more margin in the (primitive?) life support.

[Saturday-afternoon update]

Amy Shira Teitel (like me) thinks that this makes no sense.

The EM-1 Analysis

This is a good overview of the issues involved in deciding to fly crew on the first flight. If they decide to do this, I don’t want to hear a single word about delaying Commercial Crew until it is “safe” enough.

[Update a while later]

Wow, never been a big George Abbey (senior) fan, but he’s calling for cancellation of SLS:

Abbey thinks the architecture of NASA’s future plans should be thoroughly examined and redrawn. It won’t even require a budgetary increase — just a smarter allocation of the currently available funding. For instance, he suggests scrapping the SLS program altogether. There’s too much redundancy in the heavy-lift rocket market — SpaceX is working on their Falcon Heavy, Blue Origin is busy developing the New Glenn booster, and United Launch Alliance is drawing up plans for a Vulcan rocket.

From his lips to Trump’s (and Congress’s) ears.

[Wednesday-morning update]

Another call to end SLS/Orion, over at Scientific American, from Howard Bloom:

If NASA ditched the Space Launch System and the Orion, it would free up three billion dollars a year. That budget could speed the Moon-readiness of Bigelow’s landing vehicles, not to mention SpaceX’s Falcon rockets and could pay for lunar enhancements to manned Dragon 2 capsules. In fact, three billion dollars a year is far greater than what Bigelow and Musk would need. That budget would also allow NASA to bring Jeff Bezos into the race. And it would let NASA refocus its energy on earth-orbit and lunar-surface refueling stations…plus rovers, lunar construction equipment, and devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen. Not to mention machines to turn lunar dust and rock into building materials.

This new Moon program could be achieved within NASA’s current budget. In fact, members of the group I run — the Space Development Steering Committee — estimate the total cost of what I’ve described (Moon landings plus a permanent moon base) at ten billion dollars. That’s just three years’ worth of the money currently being funneled into the SLS and the Orion.

At some point, this will become conventional wisdom.

[Update a few minutes later]

Wayne Hale has a prescription for NASA that is politically impossible to fill. I’d note that there’s nothing new about this; many of us observed these problems in the 80s and 90s. It’s what happens to a bureaucracy when what it does is not nationally important, it’s captured by its customers, and Congress can do whatever it wants secure in the knowledge that none of it will affect an election.

This Morning’s Scrub

Elon seems to be operating out of an abundance of caution. Hard to blame him after the past couple years, though.

Meanwhile, Doug Messier had a brief Twitter interview with him about the GAO report.

And some

Area-man-does-good story in Ontario newspaper reveals a few new details about Blue Origin’s New Shepard plans: https://t.co/0GWrBHUeYt pic.twitter.com/JNXRES6ZgI

— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) February 18, 2017

” target=”_blank”>inadvertent insight into Blue Origin’s plans for New Shepard. This might explain the lack of flights since the last one.

Commercial Crew And Re-Enacting Apollo 8

Bob Zimmerman has been reading the GAO report (as have I), and has some thoughts:

…my impression here is that NASA is trying to impose its will for political reasons, not safety, in order to make the commercial program as ineffective as SLS/Orion has been. And the proof of this is NASA’s decision this week to consider flying humans on the very first test flight of SLS. If NASA as an agency really cared about safety like it claims in this GAO report, it wouldn’t dream of flying an untested SLS manned. While the GAO report can only point to some specific and somewhat limited issues faced by Boeing and SpaceX, SLS remains completely unknown. Unlike Atlas 5 and Falcon 9, it has not flown once. None of its components have been tested in flight, and to ignore this basic fact and fly it manned [sic] the first time is absurd.

No, it appears to me that NASA and certain members of Congress are trying to manipulate things to save SLS. Their problem is that SLS simply stinks. It has cost too much to build, it is taking too long to get built, and it remains an untested design that has a very limited value. Even if this political maneuvering gets SLS up first with people on board, and that flight does not fail, SLS will still stink. Its second flight will still be years away, while the commercial capsules will be able to fly numerous times in the interim, and they will be able to do it for a quarter of the price.

The worst aspect of this political maneuvering is that it is harming the American effort to fly in space, for no good reason, and might very well cause the death of Americans. Instead of getting Americans launched quickly on American-built spacecraft, these political games are forcing us once again to consider depending on the Russians for an additional few more years. Considering the serious corruption and quality control problems revealed recently in Russia’s aerospace industry, we should not feel save launching Americans on their spacecraft. And we certainly shouldn’t feel safe launching them on SLS during that first test flight.

It’s a political stunt. Instead of trying to win a race with the Soviets, they’re trying to win a race with private industry, while handicapping the competition. There is only one realistic “back up plan” for ending out dependence on Russia. Start flying without “certification,” while making clear the risk.

[Late-afternoon update]

Gwynn Shotwell: “The [heck] we won’t fly before 2019!”

I’m guessing that Marcia bowdlerized her, and she used some other word starting with “He.” And it’s not “helium.”