OK, several people have asked, in off-topic comments and email, about this announcement by SpaceX from last week, and wondering why I haven’t noted it.

Two reasons: first, a lot of it is in a piece I wrote for Popular Mechanics last week, and expected to run last week, and I didn’t want to step on the story here. Second, I didn’t think it was that big a piece of news. There’s little here that hasn’t been known for years to people who have been following the company and Elon’s plans. All it does is flesh out numbers on the thrust of the Merlin 2 and payload for the BFR.

As for whether I think that it is a challenge to my ongoing jihad against heavy lift, well, maybe. As I told Max Vozoff at lunch the other week, I’m not opposed to heavy lift in principle — I just think that it is unnecessary at the present time, and that it will be ghastly expensive if done using NASA legacy hardware and work force (and perhaps even ULA-legacy hardware, too, though that will be somewhat more affordable). If Elon can make it work economically, then more power to him, but I expect him to do it on a fixed-price contract that has to fairly compete with solutions not requiring it. For instance, if he wants to bid for propellant delivery, and thinks that he can beat the price at the depot of other bidders, go for it. I just don’t want the taxpayer to subsidize the development of what I consider an unneeded vehicle.

Still Not Quite Getting It

The WaPo has an editorial today on space policy, that points out some of the flaws in the Congressional rocket design, but misses the mark in many ways, as others have point out:

Last year, the Augustine commission found that without an additional $3 billion in funding over the next several years, the Bush administration’s Constellation program for manned spaceflight and a return to the moon would be impossible.

I’m not sure what they mean by this, but it would seem to imply that it’s only three billion over several years (perhaps half a billion per year) when in fact it is an additional three billion per year. That is how much bigger Mike Griffin’s rocket appetite was than his budget.

It goes on:

…the new plan added a manned mission to asteroids and even a visit to Mars by 2025 without allocating more funds for that. This makes little sense.

Yes, it would make little sense if that was actually the plan, but contra the editors, there is no date associated with a Mars mission. It is simply the “eventual goal.”

Referring to the White House, Senate and House plans, they note:

All three plans for space have in common an unwillingness either to abandon the dream of human spaceflight or to confront the budget reality. But with the funding for NASA set around $19 billion and not likely to change, bold plans for humans in space are simply not feasible. Something must give. If the administration and Congress truly want human spaceflight, they need to fund it adequately. Piecemeal funding that dooms programs to failure is a waste of money — especially when so many truly vital space functions, from the satellites that supply maps and communications to the telescopes that allow us to glimpse distant worlds, could benefit from such support.

That’s true of both congressional plans, but not the White House plan. It may not have been articulated very well to date, but the administration plan is the only one that is responsive to the grim choices laid out by the Augustine panel last fall. Congress seems to ignore them completely, continuing to prefer pork over progress, and potemkin human spaceflight programs over real ones. There is, of course, nothing magic about $19B — certainly the Congress could increase it if it wants, it light of the explosion of budget in all other areas (NASA used to be almost one percent of the federal budget — this year, it’s about half of that, not because its budget was cut, but because the federal budget essentially doubled in the past year). But there is no need for more money, and if it were forthcoming, reviving Constellation in anything resembling its previous form would be a ghastly waste of it. Unfortunately, actual accomplishments in space remain unimportant to those who decide the funding for it.

Better Late Than Never

Paul Krugman (inadvertently) explains to his moron readership why the CBO numbers for the health-care deform bill were bogus.

[Update a while later]

More on Paul Krugman’s ignorance (and by implication, that of anyone who pays any attention to him):

Last night, a few of us were discussing Paul Krugman’s apparent erroneous belief that Paul Ryan should have gotten the CBO to score the revenue side of his plan, but didn’t because he was attempting to put one over on the American people. As far as I know, scoring tax bills is still the job of the Joint Committee on Taxation, not the CBO–but no one bothered to blog it because, as far as I can tell, we all assumed that we must be misreading Paul Krugman.

But no, I didn’t misread; Krugman has two follow-up posts on the topic. It seems as if he’s really not aware that the JCT, not the CBO, typically handles the official scoring of tax legislation; “CBO” is not, in any of the policy circles I’ve run in, some sort of shorthand for the JCT (especially since there’s–ahem!–some rivalry there).

I haven’t read the work that got Krugman the Nobel prize, but those who have tell me he deserved it. I sure don’t know what he’s done since then that was worth a damn.

Well, Now We Know Why He Hired Her

Christina Romer says that we need a higher growth rate to reduce unemployment.

In related news, the Pope remains Catholic.

[Update a while later]

Good riddance, Christina Romer:

The ordinary function of government is to destroy talented people, but Romer’s epic failure has an additional element of tragedy. As an economist, Romer did an excellent job [pdf] of establishing that New Deal stimulus failed to end or seriously mitigate the Great Depression. As an Obama team player (and poignantly, a sunny supporter of the then-senator’s campaign), she made a 180-degree turn toward pro-stimulus hocus pocus. Romer will be remembered as the main advocate of the mythical “multiplier” phenomenon, in which every federal dollar spent producers more than 100 pennies worth of economic activity. This is the kind of economics you’d expect to hear from a fine arts major.

I wonder what she’ll say in the future? This reminds me of so many smart people who, after leaving NASA, say things like, “…how could I have made that decision”?

Boeing Is Cutting Metal

I sat in on a Boeing press conference on CST-100 yesterday morning, with several other space reporters, including Andy Pasztor, Ken Chang, Denise Chow, Todd Halvorson, Bill Harwood, and others. I’ll be incorporating some of it into a PM piece that I just wrote, but Pat Brennan at the OC Register has a story this morning.

[Update a while later]

Here’s Todd Halvorson’s story at FL Today.

[Update a while later]

Here are my notes from the presser:

4.5 meter, seven crew, pusher abort system flying in 2015. simplicity for safety/reliability. Space Act Agreement, fixed price, need low development risk, high TRL. Business case challenging. Need development funding/ISS market. Also need other markets. Keith: already started program under CCDev, just did IDR a couple days ago. Complete SDR in October. Pressure-vessel testing at Bigelow’s facilities. Doing drop tests, started a week ago, working on life support. Using rendezvous system from Orbital Express. Not viewgraph engineering.

Berger: Confidence that Boeing has in getting contract? Elbon: Watching that closely. NASA envisions process like COTS. Will have to assess probabilities as they move forward. Want to see commitment downstream so they have better idea of price.

Pat Brennan: Is this a Shuttle replacement? Crew only, can’t replace all capabilities of Shuttle. Will be able to stay for months.

Which authorization bill most favorable? Senate closer to the compromise they’d like to see.
What launch vehicle? Human rate Delta IV, what about hydrogen issue? Looking at Atlas, Delta, Falcon 9. Primary targets EELVs. Systems are human rated, not components. ULA working CCDev for FOSD. Don’t think that any major mods to rockets themselves. Big issues launch pad for crew egress.

Denise Chow: How did they settle on the shape? Good data base on Apollo design, don’t need much wind tunnel. Also good shape for land landing.
What have the biggest challenges been? Pusher abort.

Future for larger capsules in the future? Have to take it one step at a time. Get started with simple safe system and see how market develops.
Private individuals can fly, or just scientists? Hope to have broad markets — need destinations, not NASA only.

Harwood: Will the business model support multiple players? Even with Bigelow, is there enough? Elbon: More launches, lower prices. Working with KSC to find government assets, cost per use rather than having to own them. NASA wants at least two providers. Boeing hopes to get to market first, and see significant flight rate from Bigelow.
What is the order of magnitude of a ticket price? Will be competitive with Soyuz.

Halvorson: Test flight schedule? What vehicles? No vehicle selected yet, but ULA baseline. Late 2013, 2014 for abort tests and orbital flight tests. Pad abort test at White Sands, and rest out of the Cape.

Andy Pasztor: How much overall development cost? How much will Boeing spend? Less than numbers for CRV. How much Boeing spends depends on risk level, and what Congress/FAA/NASA do.

David Baker: What consideration being given to expanding market off shore? Ever launch on Ariane? Have to base business case on those things as upside potential, not baseline. Have considered that and will further develop down the road.
Any interest from Air Force? Not that I know of?

Chang: Anything beyond ISS/Bigelow? Hoping that other ventures will mature. Market is a chicken/egg thing.
Any chance of going forward without NASA business? Unlikely that biz case closes without it.
Bigelow not big enough market? Sees a lot of potential, but also a lot of risk.

Harwood: How reusable? Capsule reused up to ten times. Some parts get ejected (forward cone, base heat shield). Land at White Sands.

Halvorson: How many objectives and how many achieved in CDDev? 36 milestones (four per demo, four for design) completed 22, essentially done by end of year. About halfway to PDR. How long to PDR/CDR? Next spring, then end of year.

Brennan: What’s being done in Huntington Beach? For development, pressure vessel being assembled, base heat shield, AR&D sensors, tied into Houston simulators.

I had two questions. First, how did the pusher abort system work, did it have two different thrust levels, and was it liquid? Answer from Keith: it’s hypergolic (MMH/NTO, like the Shuttle) and has high thrust engines for the abort, and uses lower-thrust RCS for orbital maneuvering. I didn’t follow up on the operations implications for those propellants. The other question was whether or not it could be kitted, or if it was being scarred, for deep-space operations. The answer was no, that would be a different vehicle entirely. This one is for LEO only.

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