Commercial Space

“…needs an Obama relaunch“:

The full privatization of U.S. space transportation will bring two immediate benefits. First, America can and will recapture global leadership in commercial space transportation (we are currently fourth in launches per year, behind Russia, Europe and Ukraine), bringing thousands of good jobs back to America. Second, since NASA will be purchasing services—essentially tickets for crew and cargo—on the same commercial transportation used by the Defense Department, the department will save money, which can be used to improve U.S. national security.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of this transition will be NASA. Private industry can build the rockets, and do a much better job at lowering costs than any government agency. NASA can then focus on the important and difficult jobs that only NASA can do Among other things, this would include developing gamechanging technologies such as advanced electric propulsion that are still too risky for any company to invest in, and which will create brand-new industries in the 21st century.

A renewed and refocused NASA is critical to America’s future. So as the country struggles with trillions in debt and deficits, it makes no sense for NASA to build rockets that are already available or can be developed at much lower cost by U.S. private industry. Why spend approximately $20 billion to build an unneeded SLS super-heavy-lift rocket, for instance, when existing commercial rockets can carry payloads more often, efficiently and cheaply?

Unfortunately, it makes lots of sense once you understand that the purpose is not to actually do anything useful in space. That’s just lagniappe, if we’re lucky enough to get it.

21 thoughts on “Commercial Space”

  1. People who support SHLV have a compelling case but as is often pointed out NASA doesn’t have the money to develop the launcher, operate it, and develop payloads.

    A great benefit of a COTS like approach to SHLV is that other people get to use the SHLV besides NASA.

    1. Unless you’re Bob Zubrin, you probably recognize that no matter how large the launch vehicle you’re going to have to do on-orbit assembly with multiple launches anyway, at some point. Why not start now?

  2. Why not do a dual launch of a Falcon 9 Heavy and a Falcon 9 and do EOR/LOR and land someone on the Moon just to shut these SLS proponents up?

      1. A good point, Trent. And it does bring up the question (to me – maybe everyone else knows this):

        What is the size of that check?

        What would it cost a private outfit to buy the launches, design and build the machines to get to the moon, complete with comm and tracking services, execute a short Apollo-like dirt and rock grabber, plant the House flag, and get back?

        A no-frills operation. No lengthy geological training, for example.

        1. Just as a WAG, I’d put the cost of buying a Falcon 9, man-carrying Dragon and Falcon Heavy at approximately $250 million. For the rest, you use off-the-shelf equipment to the maximum extent possible and build a minimalistic lander for perhaps $100-200 million. Extending the speculation, you’re looking at a price tag in the range of $0.4 to 1.0 billion, give or take a lot depending on your specific requirements and how much technology you have to develop instead of buy.

          But those are just guesses on my part.

          1. “you use off-the-shelf equipment to the maximum extent possible and build a minimalistic lander for perhaps $100-200 million.”

            I’m sure Paul Breed would be happy if you gave him half that in exchange for his off the shelf lander.

          2. If he has an off-the-shelf lander that could actually bring 1 or 2 people all the way to the lunar surface and back for $50 million, then bring it on. His company, along with Armadillo and Masten, are already working in the right direction.

          3. Using a separate capsule/lander is the big dumb Apollo way to do it.

            Weight is the enemy of all things that fly. The Apollo LOR approach was very elegant from a weight standpoint. That’s why they used it. Using separate vehicles means you don’t have to carry the mass of the heat shield, parachute(s) and the fuel needed to return to the Earth down to the lunar surface. You leave all that stuff in lunar orbit and only take the absolute minimum you need to land and return. Carrying all that unnecessary mass means you have to have more propellant for both the landing and the lunar liftoff. It takes propellant to accelerate propellant so the effect snowballs rather quickly. The early Direct Ascent and Earth Orbit Rendezvous concepts both failed because they depended on taking everything down to the lunar surface. LOR is much more efficient. Earth orbit assembly before TLI followed by LOR is even more efficient. Here’s some info on minimal lunar lander designs from the early 1960s. It’s hard to get much more basic than that. While it doesn’t specify, I’m pretty sure it used hypergolic propellants. Propellants with higher Isp could cut the mass substancially but you’d need to get around the boil-off issues.

  3. FAA/AST is an example of an unneeded agency. Any damage caused by a rocket is going to have a responsible entity which will pay for damages even if it takes a court to determine the details. Cut a few billion here and a few billion there and soon we’d be talking about real money. But that’s not even the real cost. We need a new mental attitude about government. Get rid of what we really don’t need.

    From the article

    [Ronald Reagan] persuaded a Democratic-led Congress to expand NASA’s official legal mission to “seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space,” and he freed commercial satellites from a requirement that they be carried aloft on the government-owned-and-operated Space Shuttle.

    He should not have had to.

  4. Also, I have to say it: Falcon Heavy will be a more persuasive argument for cancelling SLS as soon as SpaceX actually flies Falcon Heavy. Until then, it’s just one powerpoint vs the other and NASA always wins in that kind of fight.

    1. Falcon Heavy is nice, but I don’t think there’s any BLEO payload the SLS could launch wet that a Delta IV Heavy can’t launch dry.

      We don’t have to wait. The Delta IV Heavy already proves the folly of SLS. Falcon Heavy just makes it ridiculous.

        1. [voice=Jerry’s nephew]

          Touche’ pussycat!


          Cartoon effects added because apparently a one-word reply is not acceptable.

      1. Anyone have a link or readers digest explanation for why Falcon Heavy can launch more weight to LEO than the the Delta IV but not to GEO? Does it have something to do with the second stage?

        1. Yes, that’s right. Like the Proton, the Falcon Heavy is an all hydrocarbon propellant vehicle. The lower isp on the upper stage means the leg to GTO takes more fuel.

          Of course, the Delta IV Heavy is the most expensive rocket in the world.

          1. Like the Proton, although the Block-D/DM, which was once upon a time used as an upper stage on the Proton, is LOX/RP-1 like the Falcon Heavy. Proton is an all N2O4/UDMH vehicle and often, these days, uses the Briz-M upper stage which is also N2O4/UDMH.

    2. FH isn’t the last word. Once economically feasible, much bigger rockets are coming from SpaceX. It’s not the technology, it’s the commerce.

      We await your check.

      Commerce and markets are the point. We have a huge potential commerce driver in settlement. The first step is for someone to put a refuelable general purpose ship (minus fuel) in LEO. Several if they’re smart. It can be rented for many types of missions before actually serving as a colony ship.

  5. [[[A renewed and refocused NASA is critical to America’s future. ]]]

    Again, you are assuming that NASA is on the critical path to space settlement instead of being a major barrier blocking it.

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