Scott Pace

Lee Billings has an interview with him. This is Scott’s (whom I’ve know well for 35 years) standard response when asked about SLS:

Heavy-lift rockets are strategic national assets, like aircraft carriers. There are some people who have talked about buying heavy-lift as a service as opposed to owning and operating, in which case the government would, of course, have to continue to own the intellectual properties so it wasn’t hostage to any one contractor. One could imagine this but, in general, building a heavy-lift rocket is no more “commercial” than building an aircraft carrier with private contractors would be.

He never explains how a rocket that almost never flies, and costs billions per flight, if and when it does, is a “strategic national asset.” It seems more like a liability to me, in the modern age of commercial spaceflight.

[Update Tuesday morning]

More thoughts from Eric Berger.

[Late-morning update]

NASA’s safety Kobayashi Maru.

This is insanity.

[Update mid-afternoon]

Bob Zimmerman righteously rants. I really find it hard to believe that this thing will ever fly with crew.

9 thoughts on “Scott Pace”

  1. If his point is that sending, for example, a larger counterpart to the X-37B via commercial rocket wouldn’t make good sense, I suppose he’d be right — except for his not having said that.

    Remember, boys and girls: If you mean something, say it.

  2. I would have liked to see some kind of discussion of whether NASA should cede certain parts of the mission to private companies that are doing it okay, and focus on other parts that really need NASA to do them.
    For instance, NIH funds certain parts of drug creation, and leaves other parts (bringing to market…) to Big Pharma. Not saying it works all that well, but at least we don’t have NIH spending its whole budget on one or two drugs that may not work out.

    1. They have been thinking about this with the ISS, has there been a study that the public can read? That leads to the question, if the ISS can be run by a corporation, then what about what replaces the ISS? Would NASA have to control a DSG or any other type of station?

  3. all presidents in recent memory have scarcely discussed space at all on the campaign trail, and once elected offer similar blandishments about the nation’s once and future leadership in space.

    Manage those expectations, positive or negative. There was a lot to unpack in that interview. It looks like NASA will continue support of SLS and commercial programs, which isn’t surprising.

    People who are critical of the proposed cislunar activities might look at this a a self fulfilling prophecy, And we’re already seeing private sector proposals for doing things there. But it should also be noted that while Trump is portrayed as an isolationist, the cislunar proposals are centered on international efforts.

    I don’t buy the notion that all of our space activities have to be international efforts but there are more economic opportunities where there are more people and private companies have expressed interest in cislunar space going back before the Trump administration. So, it isn’t just that other countries want to operate there but many of members of our space industry. All of these activities and groups will enable Mars at some point.

  4. SLS is a national asset in the same sense the Akron, Shenandoah, Macon, and Hindenburg were national assets.

  5. That aircraft carrier comment is about eight kinds of wacky. Aircraft carriers are military assets with explicitly military missions. NASA is – at least supposedly – a civilian agency. SLS is NASA’s project and has no military missions. Indeed it has no genuinely consequential missions of any sort save perhaps Europa Clipper. Finally, aircraft carriers are built by commercial enterprises – Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipbuilding and its myriad subcontractors.

    The intellectual property thing is especially bizarre. I imagine the U.S. gov’t. “owns” the IP for a Ford-class aircraft carrier. It should as all the R&D and construction money were government funds. But Newport News, even if it technically “owned” the IP, couldn’t build and sell Fords to other nations without U.S. gov’t. approval any more than Boeing or LockMart can do likewise with fighter planes.

    But the newer commercial launch vehicles have not, except a bit around the edges, been developed on the gov’t. dime any more than have commercial airliners. Yet commercial airliners move military equipment and troops all the time. Is the gov’t. thereby entitled to the IP of Boeing and Airbus? Falcon 9 has launched the X-37B. Does that entitle the gov’t. to possession of SpaceX’s IP? As a practical matter, a lot of SpaceX IP is already known to both USAF and NASA via EELV certification and the COTS and CC programs, respectively, but “ownership?

    This guy is sounding well beyond borderline nuts to me.

    1. If the military is worried about access, they should just buy a small fleet of Falcon 9’s after they reach maturity.

  6. It is true that SpaceX has obtained funding from NASA to fly cargo missions to the International Space Station.

    That is the problem with defending SpaceX. They have taken government money, it could be argued that the payments are in part subsidy because they are higher than normal launch costs, and Musk has said they couldn’t have done it without NASA. But none of that really matters and isn’t worth arguing over.

    SpaceX produces a vehicle with revolutionary capabilities and record setting cost effectiveness, regardless of its relationship with the government. They are a good example of private sector innovation in a partnership with government. We don’t see many of those.

    “Heavy-lift rockets are strategic national assets, like aircraft carriers,” Pace said.

    Rather than portraying this as Pace being anti-commercial space, it could be said that the government views a SHLV being so important that all our eggs should not be in one basket. Maybe those in the government can’t see the commercial opportunities for the launch companies, which is fine, so they don’t see how a FH, NG, or BFR can exist outside of government contracts. It isn’t the role of government to plan out business opportunities.

    Pace explicitly endorses commercial space and a dual track or mixed approach. There is nothing there that says he wants to get rid of the fixed price contracts as Berger claims.

    SLS isn’t a commercial endeavor. NASA wont use it for commercial purposes. From a government POV, a SHLV is no more commercial than an aircraft carrier. Because it is not commercial, the costs, real and opportunity, are not a concern. The capabilities and assurance of access are.

    Pace is largely right. Where he is wrong, and where Berger should be directing his articles, is that the commercial cargo and crew programs have shown a better procurement process. A competitive development, with milestone payments, and contractors retaining control of their product can lead to multiple launch vehicles for cheaper than NASA can develop one through traditional cost plus contracting. This creates a multiplier effect on what the government will be able to do for the same amount of money.

    Pace has legitimate concerns but doesn’t see the advantages of other methods of addressing those concerns. Or maybe he does but also recognizes the realities of congress and crony contractors. I predict that both of these situations will change as companies demonstrate their capabilities and politicians see the value of industries over specific companies.

  7. I have to dissent here. I think the point he makes is actually quite correct. The market for heavy lift right now is so rarefied only large governments can afford to contract or own then. Or course the question is do you even need heavy lift? Some people would also question the fiscal sanity of owning things like the Ford aircraft carriers (not necessarily carriers in general). Personally I think a larger number of smaller carriers with mostly drones would make a better solution for example. You might claim there are no national security reasons. But you have to remember for example that Hubble was based on spysat technology and was made to be serviceable by Shuttle just like many of those satellites. Of course that never quite happened as it was meant to, but clearly there *is* a need for heavy lift for things like that. The larger the diameter of the mirror you put up there the more resolution your camera will have.

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