Building the elephant.
NASA hasn’t understood the importance of iteration and starting with a “minimum viable product” since the 1960s when they were scared to their core by the Soviets. Today they have too much pride and arrogance to build something as simple as a 2 stage LOX/Kero booster like the Falcon 1/9 or an ordinary capsule like the Dragon or CST-100. (Orion is capsule based but it’s loaded up with enough “never been done before”s to make it palatable to NASA.)
Exactly. For those who have never heard of MVP: Minimum Viable Product
But that’s not the only problem. In addition to focussing on MVP, they should avoid competing with the private sector.
NASA really can’t make the decisions. Congress has wanted the payrolls for jobs in their districts to stay the same ever since apollo. It is not about space exploration or hardware.. but keeping the workforce.
Yep, which is exactly why NASA has become so dysfunctional and needs to go.
How much of that was internalized long ago, so that administrators reflexively distribute the work across as many centers and districts as possible?
It occurs to me that we started down the path after Sputnik, when space became “important” for a time. Prior to that, rockets were things captured Nazis, nuts, and the military played with out in the desert.
During the space craze in the aftermath of Sputnik, no state, however backwards, wanted to be left behind when it came to science and new frontier. Since the politicians and public had made such a hullabaloo about catching up, Representatives needed to show their constituents that their districts were keeping up and kicking in, since all could contribute to the collective action to keep up with and beat the communist menace. Space and missiles were futuristic and important, and every Congressmen wanted to make sure his folks had a piece of it. As the federal dollars flowed, what started as “no district left behind” behind became “every district gets some pork.” It was mass mobilization on a national scale, or as Jerry Pournelle puts it, throwing lots of bodies at the problem.
Some of the pork has ebbed, as has the Apollo era workforce, but what remains is entrenched in Congress.
It was definitely institutionalize when the Shuttle was designed, with the result being that solid rockets were built in Utah and had to be cut into pieces instead of being produced in one piece in Louisiana…
And what’s telling is that from a corporate standpoint, it would’ve made more sense to relocate the employees and operations to Louisiana or Florida, but then they’d be voting in a different district.
And it seems New Space is learning the game. Just look at how XCOR now has a presence in Texas and Florida… And SpaceX seems to be promising almost everyone a launch facility.
Thomas, why do you continue to flaunt your business and tech ignorance? XCOR is moving to TX and FL for business environment, not for NASA contracts.
In the 1960′s, General Dynamics did a study comparing the development of the suborbital X-15 with an expendable missile (Atlas A) of similar size and performance. General Dynamics found that the X-15, although more complex and of higher reliability, was about 30% cheaper to develop. A US Air Force study conducted around the same time, using different methods, came to a similar conclusion.
So did they take the cost to develop the B-52 launch platform into account? I bet not.
The improved economics come from launching often. Reusability is just a nice thing to have but not required in of itself.
How do you launch a rocket “often” if it’s destroyed the first time you launch it?
Economies of scale from mass production can reduce costs to a tenth of the per unit price.
To get those economies of scale, you would need to ramp up production by roughly a factor of >16,000. Good luck with that.
Space rockets are not breakfast cereal.
You probably already know this but I am a proponent of VTVL reusable launch vehicles, propellant depots, ISRU, automated bases on the Moon, Phobos, Mars, etc.
However reusable rockets are not, I repeat not, required to make Mars exploration economically viable. What is required is a stepping stone approach using ISRU to manufacture propellants in space from local materials and have propellant depots for ressuply. That way you can reduce the number of required launches and vehicle sizes to a point where the economics of expendable vs reusable and super heavy lift don’t matter.
Repeating it doesn’t make it true.
You assume that building the startup infrastructure and transporting it to Mars has no cost. That isn’t true. It’s the same sort of wishful thinking that led people to predict that Orion would lead to Helium-3 and PGM mining on the Moon.
Orion would have. The pork barrel currently hijacking that name will not.
It does have a startup cost allright but you don’t need to do any new heavy launcher R&D to start doing it. We can already place things after all, like the rovers, how heavy is an air liquefaction plant anyway?
I offer this as a possibility, haven’t researched it as to details of the cost:
The idea of a space fuel depot depends, at least initially, on hauling heavy, but cheap, materials (fuel, obviously, but also possibly structural components) into LEO as a minimum. Rockets are expensive at least partially because they are thought to need great reliability. This is, of course, true if you’re lofting something expensive – comsats, space probes…
What are the comparative costs of using ultra-reliable boosters to loft cheap stuff into orbit, vs. using less reliable but considerably cheaper boosters for that job and accepting the occasional loss of a load of LOX (for example)?
I haven’t researched it as to details of the cost.
Rockets are expensive at least partially because they are thought to need great reliability
Nonsense. If your car was as “reliable” as Soyuz, you would be afraid to start it. What makes Soyuz expensive is not that it’s too reliable. It’s that Roscosmos has to build a new one for every flight.
In the real world, making things reliable does not make them more expensive. It makes them cheaper. Southwest isn’t interested in buying unreliable airplanes. They couldn’t afford to operate them. Boeing couldn’t afford to build them, either.
Look at the reliability problems of the 787 (which are very minor compared to ELVs). Do you think Boeing has saved money as a result?
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