Geopolitics In Space

I talked to Glenn Reynolds yesterday about our Russian entanglement. Just civil, though, not the military space problem.

[Afternoon update]

Space News had a blistering editorial on Monday, excoriating the fools on the Hill:

Those who bemoan NASA’s reliance on Russia, yet shortchange the very program designed to fix that problem, are at the same time adamant that the agency spend nearly $3 billion per year on SLS and Orion, vehicles that for all their advertised capability still have no place to go. Their size and cost make them poorly suited for space station missions, even as a backup to commercial crew taxis, and in any case the first SLS-Orion crewed test flight won’t happen before 2021.

NASA currently lacks an independent crew launching capability because of decisions made a decade ago, the consequences of which were fully understood and accepted at the time. The longer this situation lasts, however, the more culpable the current group of decision-makers will become.

In that vein, the current criticisms of NASA and the White House might be viewed as a pre-emptive strike by lawmakers who sense their own culpability. But in pressing arguments that fail to stand up to even modest scrutiny, they not only undermine their credibility, they give NASA cover to pursue a Commercial Crew Program approach that might not be sustainable.

What a pathetic lot they are.

[Bumped]

15 thoughts on “Geopolitics In Space

  1. Al

    I don’t see it as a serious possibility, but one could imagine plenty of things beyond ‘Russia using what’s already there to take over’.

    Having an armed extra body or two, or having the payload be entirely fuel to relocate even above 55 for starters. Yes, they may end up ‘short’ in a lot of categories.

    But we’d look pretty silly if they just shifted its orbital inclination a tiny bit, yes? “So sorry. It -is- easier for us to get here … how much will you pay us to ship the fuel to shift back?”

    1. Nemo

      This is all nonsense. There is no inclination the Russians could shift ISS to that the US couldn’t reach with commercial crew. 55 is child’s play and even 57+ would only require range safety waivers. The reverse is not true; anything below 46 is inaccessible from Baikonur and anything below 51.6 would require ascent overflight of China. Don’t be misled by shuttle experience; shuttle suffered a higher payload penalty at steeper inclination because the entire mass of the orbiter counted. And there is plenty the US could do to prevent them from trying in the first place. Shut down power transfer to the Russian segment, for example. Or worse. Houston can open or close any valve or switch in the US segment, and can lock out onboard commanding to prevent the Russians from overriding it. Use your imagination from there. The Russians are well aware of this and that is why they will not even try. If it ever came down to this scenario, ISS will be the least of our worries because it will already be WWIII on the ground.

    2. Arizona CJ

      I don’t think the Russians would do anything as crazy (and pointless) as an armed takeover of ISS, but assuming they did want to do so, why would they need to send up any armed crew? Their cosmonauts carry guns on every mission, including to ISS, so the cosmonauts there now are armed (sort of- they usually leave the guns in the Soyuz).

      The reason they carry guns is the Soyuz sometimes lands in wild areas. Reportedly, though I’ve been unable to verify this, they actually had to use them to fend off wolves once, which I feel somewhat safe in assuming would have been after landing and not in orbit. Anyone know which mission this might have been?

      1. Rand Simberg Post author

        Actually, it did occur to me afterward that in fact the Russians do carry a handgun in the Soyuz to fend off the wolves in the event of an adverse landing. But even in retrospect, it’s not really relevant.

        1. Arizona CJ

          What’s making me nervous right now is that they may decide to narrow the CCP field . I wish I was sure SpaceX (which is IMHO by far the closest to manned capability – they technically have it already) would not get chopped from the program.

          Why do I think there’s a danger of this? Because cutting SpaceX would serve as an excuse to shovel more pork at SLS/Orion. (If SpaceX gets manned capability, it takes away one of their excuses for why we “need” SLS/Orion). So, from a pork/corruption POV, the best company to cut from CCP is the one closest to making it work.

          I hope I’m wrong.

          1. Larry J

            I hope you’re wrong as well but wouldn’t bet against it. I disagree with the linked Space News editorial on the pressing need to down select to a single provider. I’d cut it to two providers and make them compete. When the government goes sole source, it invariably ends up costing more. Should they go to a single provider, I wouldn’t bet against Boeing. They have deeper pockets to bribe (campaign contributions my ass) politicians than SpaceX and Sierra Nevada.

          2. ken anthony

            It really wouldn’t matter if NASA decides not to add funding for crewed Dragon. Dragon is going to be crewed regardless of what anyone outside of SpaceX wants. Extra money is always nice but not essential.

          3. Dick Eagleson

            Agreed, gentlemen. If SpaceX is dropped from commercial crew, Dragonrider gets finished sans two years of NASA paperwork and reviews and a crewed test is launched within weeks of the in-flight abort test. Elon offers to replace the Soyuz rides to and from ISS immediately at a fraction of the $70 million/seat Roskosmos cost. Bigelow gets an attractive offer to put up a hub and a BA330 on an early Falcon Heavy. Further consternation ensues among the legacy metal benders.

          4. ken anthony

            Not counting Bigelow’s pup tent for the I.S.S. he’s already on record he will not be putting up just one station. His plans include 5 to 10 stations (although he said that before the layoffs.) He’s still just waiting for two ride sources. Does anybody know the status of Orion Lite?

  2. Name (required)

    Where has someone written out the scenario of what happens after SpaceX launches private crew ahead of NASA crew?

      1. Dale Amon

        Rand is right, at least at the present low volume. But I look forward to the day when such could happen. That will truly be a sign we have plucked space travel from the palsied hands that have clutched it and done nothing for 40 years.

  3. rickl

    I haven’t watched the video yet, but in response to the Space News editorial, it is incredible that while we currently have no means to put a human crew in orbit, we are *this close* to having the most robust system of crew transport to LEO that anybody has ever had since the dawn of the Space Age.

    We have three rockets that are capable of putting a crewed vehicle in orbit right now: Atlas V, Delta IV, and Falcon 9. We have at least three different crew vehicles in various stages of development: Dragon, CST-100, and Dream Chaser. Each of them should be able to fly on any of those launch vehicles. That would give us multiple levels of redundancy, the likes of which neither we nor the Russians have ever had before.

    Yet Congress is skimping on funding for commercial crew in favor of business-as-usual pork barrel spending, or developing a Big Phallic Rocket for the sake of National Prestige. It is to laugh.

    1. Larry J

      One of the interesting things that Boeing did with their CST-100 capsule was to design it to be compatable with the Delta IV, Atlas V and Falcon 9 boosters. To my knowledge, no one has done that before with a manned spacecraft. This allows for great operational flexibility and potential cost savings. While SpaceX wants to launch their own capsules, I doubt they’d turn down Boeing’s business.

      1. ken anthony

        I hope to live long enough to see markets develop that put private commercial vendors in charge. NASA needs to be trimmed to a person with a phone to order services or as close to that as possible.

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