Transterrestrial Musings  

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay

Alan Boyle (MSNBC)
Space Politics (Jeff Foust)
Space Transport News (Clark Lindsey)
NASA Watch
NASA Space Flight
Hobby Space
A Voyage To Arcturus (Jay Manifold)
Dispatches From The Final Frontier (Michael Belfiore)
Personal Spaceflight (Jeff Foust)
Mars Blog
The Flame Trench (Florida Today)
Space Cynic
Rocket Forge (Michael Mealing)
COTS Watch (Michael Mealing)
Curmudgeon's Corner (Mark Whittington)
Selenian Boondocks
Tales of the Heliosphere
Out Of The Cradle
Space For Commerce (Brian Dunbar)
True Anomaly
Kevin Parkin
The Speculist (Phil Bowermaster)
Spacecraft (Chris Hall)
Space Pragmatism (Dan Schrimpsher)
Eternal Golden Braid (Fred Kiesche)
Carried Away (Dan Schmelzer)
Laughing Wolf (C. Blake Powers)
Chair Force Engineer (Air Force Procurement)
Saturn Follies
JesusPhreaks (Scott Bell)
The Ombudsgod
Cut On The Bias (Susanna Cornett)
Joanne Jacobs

Site designed by

Powered by
Movable Type
Biting Commentary about Infinity, and Beyond!

« It Keeps Flashing "12:00" | Main | Not Terrorists »

The End Of Manned Spaceflight?

No, despite the title of this article, which is actually a pretty devastating critique of the Orbital Space Plane and NASA's manned spaceflight plans in general.

It gets a few things wrong (e.g., Columbia actually was capable of docking to ISS, albeit with less payload than the rest of the fleet), and I'm pretty leery about simply going back to Apollo capsules. I also disagree that the benefits of wings are "dubious," though it may be that they don't justify their costs.

And where have we heard this before?

The basic limitation on the operational lifetime of Shuttle, OSP, or any reusable spacecraft is not the loss rate of crews, it is the loss rate of spacecraft.

Astronauts, after all, are easily replaceable. The number of overqualified applicants vastly exceeds the demand. But the OSP vehicles will be expensive, hand-built national treasures that simply can't be thrown away.

Just imagine what would have happened if the Shuttle fleet had actually flown the advertised 50 times a year -- at a loss rate of 1 in 60 flights, we would have run out of Orbiters long ago. The same logic applies to OSP, only more so because Delta 4 and Atlas 5 are cheap, non-man-rated commercial boosters whose reliability goal is only 98%.

Unfortunately, like most such pieces, it assumes that the current manned space program goals (continuing to support ISS at some minimal level) are appropriate, and that NASA has simply come up with the wrong technical solution. The reality, of course, is that we need to completely rethink the purpose of even having a government-funded manned space program, and until we've done that, trying to come up with solutions is pointless.

His title is wrong. It's not the end of manned spaceflight--it's the beginning, as private investment is now starting to flow into the field. But it may be the end (and not necessarily inappropriately) of NASA's operational program to provide it.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 11, 2003 03:32 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference this post from Transterrestrial Musings.

If O'Keefe wants something "Sooner, rather than later." It will almost have to be the Apollo Type capsule option.

I would far perfer an Apollo capsule that can carry seven vs. a space plane that can carry four.

Besides, the capsule should be readily adaptable to deep space use by trading some crew for consumables and adding a heavier heat shield. A plane design would be stupid for deep space use.

(Remember what happened to 'Ranger 7 and Cpt. William 'Buck' Rogers!, The deep voice of Willam Conrad should be resonating in your head right now. Dare I even mention the little story of the space plane and intelligent apes coming to dominate humanity in 2000 or so years!)

Posted by Mike Puckett at July 11, 2003 08:07 PM

Lessee, Delta and Atlas boosters have 2 failures in 100 attempts.... That's surprisingly close to the actual catastrophic failure rate of the "man-rated" STS. And why is a 98% catastrophic failure rate considered acceptable for routine spacelift? Even the Post Office does better than that! Who makes these rules anyway? Oh yeah, it's the same people who tell us that a private space launch system could never work because space is "too hard" for private citizens. I have but one thing to say to that -- move aside and quit standing in the way of progress!!

Posted by Mark at July 12, 2003 11:28 AM

I read the article and have general thoughts to note first:

The article states that there has been no new technology that would make a new spacecraft more affordable, but I disagree. Maybe this is sort of true for actual rocket technology (?), but what about Computer Aided simulation and Design which allowed Boeing to greatly save on the 777? What about all the phenomenal materials that are being developed for other industries that can be readily applied to spacecraft - Composite frames and all the F-22/23/35 engine metallurgy?

Space station resupply seems to be a big grip of his - rightfully so. I think he understated the ESA’s ATV, which will also be able to boost the space station. Making a US version is a likely solution but I’d rather us just fund more ESA models. The real problem here involves the cancellation of that one Shuttle derived heavy-lift booster (National Something?) that got canned - as I pointed out - in a congressional subcommittee. If I’m not mistaken, there was even an artist drawing showing this rocket boosting a space taxi. Subcommittees should not have such authority! Such a booster would have greatly effected this entire space program - especially involving Station construction and its resupply. As we set about very complex endeavors that demand many different components to ultimately arrive at the desired abilities, we can’t just cancel a component liberally. They are all a package deal! Cancel one and the whole rest of the package is jeopardized.

I agree that another shuttle loss would really be the death nail of the whole affair.

For the rare use of a lifeboat in the event of a one-time station crisis, a ballistic capsule would obviously be the ideal solution: for which a seven-passenger model would be fundamentally important (if that is still the goal of the station). If it is to be used regularly, as the main crew return - we start having to ask about the need for some level of re-usability. I don’t favor capsules normally because the ‘service module’ needed to put and keep a Soyuz, Gemini, or Apollo in orbit was a big chunk of what got lost with each mission. Just look at what all the shuttle brings back - not only the crew, but the orbital/living module (in Soyuz terms) and the massive service module needed for a crew of seven over a duration of 16 days - imagine the cost of loosing that each time! For small crews, limited use, and no need for an ‘orbital’ module a
re-usable capsule may indeed be the best even more so if it can incorporate ‘some’ of the service module features like life support. This of course changes for something like a shuttle or fly-back booster where re-usability is the only way to consistently access space. For this wings or a lifting body (as we have all talked about before) are needed. I like the idea of a minor amount of shrouds on a lifting body surface - just plastic add ons (not a cylinder) that disrupt lift much like ice on a wing’s leading edge is just enough to disrupt its lift. Wheels like some form of lifting wing/body are needed at least for now. Ultimately, computer control may become so accurate that a ‘sled’ may race along a runway in conjunction with the landing of an orbiter - the sled and orbiter would link up and interlock with each other like a cradle at the point of touchdown - thus, no heavy landing gear would be necessary. Hey, I bet this would work.. right?

I covered a lot so I’ll end here. We’ve all talked about ‘what to do in space’ before and I hope Rand is keeping track - I know one guy did one time and said in our various exchanges we had no less than six proposals that would have taken a large corporation six months to come up with! Remember that?

Would anyone like to talk about the fundamentals of Design: such as why a package is a package deal?

Posted by Chris Eldridge at July 14, 2003 09:00 AM

A couple of years ago I sent two of my students (one undergrad, one grad) to Johnson to participate in a Phase 0/1 Safety Review for a small satellite we're building here at Virginia Tech ( As a bonus, I arranged for them to have dinner with one of my former PhD students, who was in astronaut training at the time. As an additional bonus, he got a couple more astronauts to join them. During the debrief I got when they returned, it appeared that all of the astronauts they met were at least a little disillusioned with the process, the mission, and their chances of flying any time soon. Both students had wanted to be astronauts *before* the trip, and both had their minds changed by their meeting with the astronauts. I agree that current "space exploration" is not all that exciting, but as you and others have noted in several places lately, there are some exciting non-NASA projects brewing. I think those students might just change their minds.

Posted by Chris Hall at July 14, 2003 12:55 PM

Well why can we make 747 which can bring 400 people too a destination and not a spaceplane.
We have several hunderd types of commercial types of planes but only one type of sts. Now boeing and airbus are in somekind of race to build beter planes, cheaper planes ect. but all commercial airliners. why not spaceliners. US marines have submarines. if you take that design and make some changes too the design it can be used for space aplications. but it has to be smaller and make with otherkinds of materials. and propulsion. but it can still use the same energy sorce but it can not use the screw as it is used now. it has to be a screw made of magnetic forcefields or something else. for long distances ion engines or something else. sometimes the anwser to a probleme can be found somewhere you won't have looked. if we could go too the moon in '60 we could already have man living on the moon and on mars with our present technology.

Posted by mark luitzen at July 22, 2003 04:32 AM

Post a comment

Email Address: