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« Major Spam Problem | Main | More Good MSM Suborbital Coverage »

More On The Space Debate

Mark Whittington explains why a vote for Senator Kerry would probably be a disaster for the civil space program, and plans to go back to the Moon and on to Mars. I do have to dispute this part, though:

The Presidentís Moon, Mars, and Beyond vision is now well known to those who follow the US space program. In essence, it would transform NASA from a high tech space taxi service operating the space shuttle to a modern day Corps of Discovery, sending the first human expeditions back to the Moon, eventually to Mars, and then to other destinations in the Solar System. Routine transport of people and cargo to and from space would be transferred to private sector companies that are even now being formed in the wake of Burt Rutanís successful flights of the privately built, privately operated SpaceShipOne.

The last sentence would seem to be wishful thinking on Mark's part. Cargo, yes, but NASA has no plans to buy tickets from the private sector for passengers. The CEV is not just a vehicle for going beyond earth orbit--it's planned to be the means for astronauts to get into space from the earth as well, atop an expendable, either a variant of EELV or on a new Shuttle-derived vehicle. The Aldridge Report didn't require NASA to purchase tickets from the private sector, and until someone does, they will continue to spend their money developing a new, expensive way to get government employees into orbit.

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 19, 2004 06:58 AM
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It is my supposition that NASA is moving toward using commercial operators to get both cargo and people to and from LEO. I base this first on some tantilizing hints in the media about how unhappy O'Keefe is with Boeing and Lockmart's approach to CEV and about how open he is to the commercial way of doing things. Second, I base it on this fact: If, by about 2010, there is regular tourist traffic to and from LEO, the imperative for NASA to save money by taking advantage of that would be overwelming. Remember what Rutan said Boeing and Lockmart will be doing in ten years, even though they don't know it yet. The same applies to NASA, in my view.

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at October 19, 2004 08:51 AM

Both those things may be true, and that is my view as well, but you imply that that is the current policy. It is not.

In any event we'll see how unhappy O'Keefe is with Boeing and Lockmart when we see who he awards CEV to. Assuming that he's still Administrator, that is (a questionable assumption, even in a second Bush term).

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 19, 2004 08:57 AM

I'm not certain how I could have implied any such thing, since that's a policy that's still a work in progress. But, as you say, we shall see.

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at October 19, 2004 09:12 AM

I'm not certain how I could have implied any such thing

Go back and read again my quote of you. That paragraph is describing the vision by my reading (and I think most reasonable peoples'). The first sentence of it says that it is well known. The next two sentences thus purport to describe it. You write: "Routine transport of people and cargo to and from space would be transferred to private sector companies that are even now being formed in the wake of Burt Rutanís successful flights of the privately built, privately operated SpaceShipOne."

That sounds very much to me like a description of current policy. But it's not. If the last sentence was meant to be your speculation about what would happen in the future, you should have put it in a different paragraph than the one describing the vision.

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 19, 2004 09:18 AM

offtopic, but check this out:
http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=15303
ESPECIALLY
http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/65852main_tSpace.pdf

Posted by at October 19, 2004 09:21 AM

The t/Space proposal is certainly interesting and, I think, the reason why this brand new entity got study money to start with.

Posted by Mark R. Whittington at October 19, 2004 09:28 AM

Unfortunately, one indication of how "open" the current administrator is to the "commercial way of doing things" is reflected in the current Vision for Space Exploration, particularly some of the precursor projects. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter could have been a private spacecraft, or even a foreign spacecraft that NASA put instruments on (there are a number that are under construction). But NASA chose neither path.

And what makes you think that there will be "regular tourist traffic to and from LEO" by 2010? In fact, Rutan is only predicting regular suborbital tourist traffic by that time.

Posted by James Stavage at October 19, 2004 11:35 AM

So, what are the chances that we'll end up with all of those smaller contractors teaming up with Boeing and Lockheed Martin in the traditional sort of projects and programs versus the t/Space proposal?

Posted by Astrosmith at October 19, 2004 01:20 PM


> what makes you think that there will be "regular tourist traffic to
> and from LEO" by 2010? In fact, Rutan is only predicting regular suborbital
> tourist traffic by that time.

Let's not quibble about the date, however.

Assume Mark is right, and the private sector will create such a vehicle with no help from NASA. In that case, why do we need to support NASA's CEV program?

On the other hand, suppose Mark is wrong and the private sector won't develop orbital vehicles any time soon without additional government incentives. In that case, why should we support a policy that puts money into developing CEV instead of creating such incentives?


Posted by Edward Wright at October 19, 2004 01:28 PM

Edward Wright has a good point.

If Falcon V can carry 2 or 3 people to LEO (okay with very little mass margin) for $15 - $20 million, why do we need a Boeing/Lockmart CEV?

Send up an uncrewed spacecraft on a 5 segment Thiokol SRB + LH2/LOX upper stage (RL-10 cluster or RL-60 or even J-2) and send up 3 crew on a steroid enhanced Falcon V and there you go for well under $100 million per mission.

Use the Falcon V capsule as a crew ferry (up & down) and re-use the Thiokol launched vessel which does not de-orbit. $15-$20 million per shot for Falcon V on steroids even beats Soyuz.

Posted by Bill White at October 19, 2004 04:57 PM

"Routine transport of people and cargo to and from space would be transferred to private sector companies that are even now being formed in the wake of Burt Rutanís successful flights of the privately built, privately operated SpaceShipOne."

Sorry, another point.

Procurement of launch services by NASA from the private sector is altogether good, but is largely irrelevant ot the mission critical goal of getting the private sector to spend money on space.

Under the Bush plan, the federal taxpayer largely remains the single payor for space exploration, much like Hillary's long dead single payor health care plan.

IMHO, this Administration does not want to change that and wants to keep NASA as the sole purchaser of orbital spaceflight for ITAR reasons as described in greater detail by Taylor Dinerman.

Posted by Bill White at October 19, 2004 05:05 PM

There was a time when AIRMAIL was only transported
on planes specifically leased to the Post Office. No passengers or fruit boxes, just mail was allowed. Then it went on commercial planes, in the baggage compartment. We may see a time when NASA rents space from privateers to get ??? payload into space.

God knows it will be more cost effective than NASA or any other federal agency will be able to do it.

Posted by Steve at October 19, 2004 06:33 PM

I have to agree with Mark in that there was a lot of stale thinking in this batch, and t/Space's approach is relatively forward-thinking.

Of course, if I was the Administrator of NASA I'd be making the rounds of the heads of Industry, Commerce and Academia and pleading for them to get involved. There needs to be a lot more NEW thinking going forward.

Posted by ken murphy at October 19, 2004 07:01 PM

SpaceHab's proposal looked pretty forward looking too, and was more detailed than t/Space's, but only t/Space addressed the role of the new commercial players.

The rest looked like Apollo, but with modules, modules, modules.

Posted by MC at October 19, 2004 07:26 PM

I think the Federal government should make it as easy as possible for private industry to go nuts trying to make money off LEO access. Clear away the old-womanish safety rules and their attendant lawyer jackals, print up a standard half-page release form and let's GO.

But that does not mean abandoning national technology for space access. For damn sure I want the fastest and most capable spacecraft around to be owned by our government and available to our military, just in case it's needed. As, sooner or later, it always is.

Posted by Carl Pham at October 20, 2004 12:46 AM

Actually, MC, they look like Lego sets.

Which isn't surprising, given that we all probably played with Legos a lot ourselves.

Posted by Astrosmith at October 20, 2004 06:43 AM


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