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More False Lessons Learned
I've been surprised at how little commentary there is in the blogosphere about today's anniversary, with the only note of it I've seen so far at NASA Watch.
Here's what I wrote at the time (off the top of my head, having just been woken up by a phone call from the east coast telling me that Columbia was missing in action over Texas). And here are some links to other things I wrote on the subject over the next few days. I'd change little of what I wrote then. Unfortunately, NASA (and Congress) don't seem to have learned the lesson from that event or, worse, they've learned the wrong lessons.
From that day three years ago, here's the lesson they should have learned:
The entire NASA budget is now in a cocked hat, because we don't know what the implications are until we know what happened. But it could mean an acceleration of the Orbital Space Plane program (I sincerely hope not, because I believe that this is entirely the wrong direction for the nation, and in fact a step backwards). What I hope that it means is an opportunity for some new and innovative ideas--not techically, but programmatically.
Unfortunately, while there was a minimal debate within the government, it wasn't really a public one, and the real issues never got properly thrashed out--we still, as a nation, don't really know why we're doing this. And we still have the mentality that the way to get the nation into space and keep it there is for the space agency to develop a launch system to its own specifications, with a low flight rate and high costs, with no resiliency or diversity of approaches. The CEV program looks more and more like the OSP every day. OSP was a capsule designed to go to ISS that might have evolved into a lunar transportation vehicle. CEV is a capsule originally conceived to go to the moon with an early capability to deliver crew to ISS, but the latter goal seems to have come to the forefront, with the dropping of the methane requirement and potential acceleration of the program to close the Shuttle "gap."
If CEV is successful, it will be just as expensive to operate as Shuttle, probably even if one ignores the high development costs of both it and its all-new (and yes, despite the marketing hype from NASA and ATK, the SRM-based "stick" will essentially be a new vehicle development) launcher. It will have the theoretical capability to get to the Moon (assuming that NASA can find the money to fund the ridiculously expensive Shuttle-derived heavy lifter on which they needlessly insist, and the lunar lander and departure stages), and it will probably be safer, but that in itself won't make it worth the money that it will cost, particularly when one contemplates the opportunity cost of how that hundred billion could be better spent.
The other lesson that NASA seems to have mislearned is one of basic economics. We have not been rational in the decision to return to flight. Jeff Foust notes some recent foolish congressional commentary:
"One of the arguments that NASA uses is that we have a contractual obligation to 15 other countries with the ISS," said Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL). "There is no sympathy for that argument with the Congress." Feeney said that if there is another foam-shedding incident with the shuttle (or presumably another problem of similar seriousness) "it's going to be really hard to save at that point, really hard to save" the shuttle program.
As someone who considers international cooperation in space to be (in general, though there have been exceptions, one of which is certainly not the space station) a bug, rather than a feature, I agree that Congress shouldn't let this drive the decision. But the notion that the Shuttle program's fate should be a function of whether or not we shed more foam is nonsensical.
The last Shuttle flight we had, last summer, which was the first one since that fateful day three years ago, probably cost (just guessing here--no time or reason to try to do a more precise estimate from the budgets) on the order of ten billion dollars (the amount of money we spent on the Shuttle program from February 2003 through July 2005). If they fly this spring, that flight will have cost probably another two or three billion. Every day that we keep this Shuttle program alive probably costs us about ten million dollars or so, whether we fly it or not (a number that makes one weep when one thinks of it as an X-Prize per day). And retiring one of the Orbiters, as some have suggested, will save very little money. In fact, as loved as Hubble is by the public, it doesn't make financial sense to use a Shuttle to repair it unless it is done quickly, because we could probably afford several new telescopes for the cost of maintaining the Shuttle program long enough to get the mission off.
There are only two reasons to be concerned about whether or not the foam shedding continues. The first is the risk of another vehicle loss, and the second is the risk of losing another crew.
It would make sense to worry about losing another orbiter, if the probability of loss was high, and we had to conserve the fleet for many flights. But the program is already planned to be terminated within another couple dozen flights anyway, and even if more foam is shed, the chances that it will result in another vehicle loss are pretty small--it flew many successful flights prior to all of the renewed attention to the foam issue since 2003. Yes, it's Russian roulette, but sometimes, if the odds are right (one is playing with a hundred-chamber gun, instead of a six-chamber gun, and there is a significant payoff to playing), playing Russian roulette can be a rational decision.
The reality, of course, is that every action we take is an act of Russian roulette, every decision we make a gamble--all that differs is the odds. If, against the odds, we lose another Orbiter in the next few flights, we could still finish the station with a fleet of two. We could, in fact, probably get to the goal with only one remaining, though the schedule would be further slowed (this all assumes, of course, that there aren't some new reliability issues of which we're currently unaware, which seems unlikely at this point given our experience base). So given that we plan to retire the fleet anyway, it makes sense to fly them out, to accomplish their intended purpose and get some value for the money we're spending to keep the program alive.
The other reason to avoid a loss is to avoid another loss of crew, but that makes no sense, either. Everyone in the astronaut office is as well informed on the risks as anyone can be. If there are some who aren't willing to fly in that knowledge, then there are plenty who will be happy to take their slots. If they (and the nation) don't think that it's worth a one in a hundred shot of dying to complete the space station, then the nation must not attach much importance to completing the space station, either out of some (misplaced, in my opinion) sense that doing so advances us in our goals in space (whatever they are), or in terms of keeping international agreements.
As Congressman Weldon pointed out in Jeff's post, NASA has a serious budget problem. They probably aren't going to get the money to both complete ISS and to keep CEV on schedule. They, and Congress and the White House, have to make some hard choices. The current policy, of keeping the Shuttle program going, without flying, is the worst possible one. Either retire the system now, and put the money toward our future (preferably in some other direction than ESAS, but even ESAS is better than paying for a Shuttle that doesn't fly) or start flying it now. But three years after the last tragedy (a longer period of time than when we were down after the Challenger loss) don't just keep sitting on the pot, as the billiondollarometer continues to tick away.
[Update in the afternoon]
Clark Lindsey has some other links to commentary on the anniversary.Posted by Rand Simberg at February 01, 2006 09:14 AM
"If, against the odds, we lose another Orbiter in the next few flights, we could still finish the station with a fleet of two."
I don't understand why you think that another orbiter loss is against the odds. On the contrary, I'd say that the odds of another orbiter loss within the next dozen launches is damn near a certainty.
All of the orbiters are getting older. They all suffer from a bad design. They all face a 33% increase in their workload after the loss of Columbia. If NASA wants to fly the full complement of 19 launches to repair the Hubble and finish the ISS by 2010, then that means 4 launches per year - if everything goes perfectly - and with every passing month and every launch delay the scheduling pressure gets higher. They would either have to accept continuing to launch shuttles after the 2010 retirement, bowing to the pressures of the launch schedule and launching more than once without perfect confidence, or accept not finishing the station.
And finishing the ISS with two shuttles is a dream. Suppose that NASA gets off 8 more launches in 2006/2007, and loses an orbiter in early 2008. If that happens and another two-year fleet grounding takes place, then we're looking at early 2010 before shuttle launches resume. Even if there is no gap at all, the remaining two shuttles would each have to launch 50% more often just to maintain the schedule, twice as often as they would have had to launch prior to the loss of Columbia. Ain't gonna happen.Posted by Ed Minchau at February 1, 2006 10:50 AM
I'd say that the odds of another orbiter loss within the next dozen launches is damn near a certainty.
I don't agree. I think it quite unlikely.
All of the orbiters are getting older.
We've never lost an Orbiter due to issues relating to age. Why do you believe that the odds of this occurring have suddenly gone up?
They all suffer from a bad design.
Has the design suddenly gotten worse? If anything, they've wrung out most of the design issues that relate to losing a vehicle. It's safer to fly now than it has been at any previous time in the program (if not, then we've wasted many more billions with the recent fixes since Challenger and Columbia).
They all face a 33% increase in their workload after the loss of Columbia.
Again, there's no reason to believe that workload is a factor in safety, at least at anything approaching current (low) flight rates.
And finishing the ISS with two shuttles is a dream. Suppose that NASA gets off 8 more launches in 2006/2007, and loses an orbiter in early 2008. If that happens and another two-year fleet grounding takes place, then we're looking at early 2010 before shuttle launches resume. Even if there is no gap at all, the remaining two shuttles would each have to launch 50% more often just to maintain the schedule, twice as often as they would have had to launch prior to the loss of Columbia.
There would be no point in a standdown in the event of another loss, unless it were due to some new, previously unsuspected cause (possible, but unlikely). The point is that, at this point, if we're going to continue the program at all, we need to accept it as is, and try to get as much value as we can while we're spending the money on it, which means flying at the highest possible rate until we either finish the job, or attrit the fleet size to the point at which it can't be finished. That means not stopping just because you lose a vehicle.
And flight rate might be reduced somewhat with another vehicle loss, but not that much--I believe that it's constrained more by facilities and work force than by number of vehicles, per se. It doesn't take a year to turn an Orbiter around or integrate the payload (particularly considering the limited number of mission typesa remaining). The biggest problem of a reduced fleet might be the loss of opportunities to cannibalize one vehicle to prepare another for flight, which was the practice in years past.Posted by Rand Simberg at February 1, 2006 11:09 AM
Unfortunately, while there was a minimal debate within the government, it wasn't really a public one, and the real issues never got properly thrashed out--we still, as a nation, don't really know why we're doing this.
This bears repeating.
And once again I can assert "spreading human civilization out there" is the only sustainable reason, long term.
And this means having babies out there is the bright line between being a spacefaring species and not being a spacefaring species.Posted by Bill White at February 1, 2006 11:11 AM
It's quite possible to be a spacefaring nation without having babies in space. It's not likely (because having babies in space will be an inevitable consequence of being a spacefaring nation), but that's not a defining feature of spacefaring.Posted by Rand Simberg at February 1, 2006 11:21 AM
Unfortunately, while there was a minimal debate within the government, it wasn't really a public one
This is a standard bureaucratic trick. If an organization can frame the issues in a way that's favorable to it, it can direct actions in a way it prefers without debate.
An example of this, as Pielke points out, was the Space Shuttle decision. NASA successfully framed the debate in terms of 'what should the shuttle look like', diverting discussion from the question 'should a shuttle be built at all'.
I'm not sure what the solution to this would be. Some mechanism needs to be added to make policymakers liable for bad decisions.Posted by Paul Dietz at February 1, 2006 11:26 AM
I am an old space watcher. I started with my mouth hanging open, running from the TV to the backyard trying to get a glimpse of Alan Shepard. It was shortly later that someone pointed out to me just how high up he was and how far Louisville is from the Cape.
I will admit that I understand that an elephant is a mouse built to government specs on cost over run. But how do we change ANY government agency? What government agency ever went away? They take on lives of their own, and out of our taxes to boot.
NASA wil only go away to be some smaller, cheaper entity when private companies take over the sky.
From an outsiders point of view I think part of the problem is WHO works at NASA, not just who runs it. Having watched all the space shows on History, Discovery, etc. it seems to me that the people who were hired in the early stages were YOUNG, innovative engineers. To push a broom at NASA takes a PhD now.
By the time you are at the doctorate level all the inovation has been pushed aside in order to get the blasted thing in the first place. Secondly you are, by then, part of the good old boy club, and it would probably be career suicide, at that point, to start bucking the system.
Now that all the engineers are mad let me say that this is my opion. It's an opinion grown after working for 25 plus years with mechanical, electrical, chemical, nuclear and marine engineers. To a sometimes lowly worker bee it seems that the more schooling these engineers had, the more alike in thinking and action they became.
Naturally there are exceptions, but they are rare, and the engineers who speak out, are usually not promoted or put in charge of "the big show".
There is a reason that Rutan isn't at NASA, and why Richard Branson isn't at Delta. It's called vision and no one at NASA has any. They simply would not fit in or last long.
Not to mention that their bosses and pay masters, congress, wouldn't know a good idea if it bit them on the....Posted by Steve at February 1, 2006 11:36 AM
I disagree with the notion oft repeated by critics of NASA that nobody at the agency has "vision". It's plain false. There are tens of thousands of NASA employees with very exciting ideas of where to go.
What about the Mars Rover missions? Oh that's an exception, is the response. And New Horizons? Stardust? Spitzer Space Telescope? Aqua? CALIPSO? Cassini-Huygens? Deep Impact? HETE-2? SORCE? SOHO? STEREO?
The list is huge and exciting and being led and run by dedicated and experienced managers, engineers, secretaries, etc. who have vision to spare.
I actually find it quite remarkable that a government agency does so many exciting things.
The manned space program has always fascinated me and has helped to justify other programs NASA has done. I'm quite sure some of those programs wouldn't exist without the high profile aspect of the manned program. On the other hand, the manned program makes little sense from a purely scientific basis; we will never be a true space faring species, get over it already.
(I do think we should go back to the moon and build several massive telescope arrays on the far side. We already have the launch technology; it's called Saturn 1B. Hypersonic technology is promising, but years off.
BTW, at this point I think a manned mission to mars is a waste of money. How about we first create a robotic mission that can go, land, scoop up some stuff and return. Unfortunately, it still seems a very expensive mission for a very marginal return, if that.)
I disagree with the notion oft repeated by critics of NASA that nobody at the agency has "vision".
Lack of vision isn't the problem. Inability to promulgate and follow policy beneficial to the country is the problem.
Also, it doesn't matter how much (or little) vision that individuals who work at NASA have. What matters is the policy and decisions made by NASA upper management, over which most of them have little control.Posted by Rand Simberg at February 1, 2006 01:27 PM
The ability to safely and routinely conceive and bear children away from the Earth will make us a spacefaring species.Posted by Bill White at February 1, 2006 01:28 PM
The ability to safely and routinely conceive and bear children away from the Earth will make us a spacefaring species.
No matter how much you beat this illogical hobby horse, it won't become true, Bill. Cost-effective transportation and infrastructure enables a spacefaring civilization, not babies born in space.
You continue to confuse cause and effect. One can have babies born in space without being spacefaring, by building an expensive space station and keeping the mother in a centrifuge for nine months. One can also be spacefaring and have no space offspring (though as I said, that would be unlikely). But to make spaceborne either a necessary or sufficient condition of spacefaring is silly.
You're the only person I've ever known to have this strange belief, and obsession. I suppose it's possible that you are more advanced in your thinking on the subject than everyone else, but given your lack of rational explanation about it, I'm going to go with Occam's razor...Posted by Rand Simberg at February 1, 2006 01:35 PM
Low cost access to LEO is an essential piece of the puzzle. No argument.
But that is not enough without the CELSS and other technologies needed to survive and thrive over a space of generations after cutting the umbilical from Earth.
By aiming at becoming a multi-planet species (safely bearing children out there) things like low cost access to LEO become part of the solution, not the end goal itself.
= = =
A thought experiment. Imagine we are with "Q" from Star Trek and can view planets across the galaxy instantly and in real time. (Its a thought experiment.)
Some species bear children on multiple worlds and others only bear children on one world.
Which is spacefaring? Which has the evolutionary advantage and is more resistant to extinction events?Posted by Bill White at February 1, 2006 02:38 PM
Witness the OpEd in this week's Space News, where the president of Thiokol argues for using Stick boosters to launch not just ISS crew and cargo but commercial passengers as well.
Reductio ad Absurdum, except that they don't realize the absurdity.
Posted by Edward Wright at February 1, 2006 02:47 PM
We definatly need to make it about colonization - if we aren't having/making that the debate, then we will only get continued pulling apart of Nasa into congressional pork. And that means we get things like the shuttle.
And it doesn't matter whether we get regarded as crazy for arguing for colonization or not - once upon a time, equal rights was reguarded as crazyPosted by Ferris Valyn at February 1, 2006 03:53 PM
As I have long said, the best market for space settlement is space settlement. There is more than sufficient initial market in LEO and no shortage of infrastructural and development work that needs to be done there. We first need to just get to LEO and start building and developing settlements there.
Many of the first settlements might be tourist resorts, others large workshop hangers for the orbital assembly of everything from habitats to satellites, power systems, tethers, life support systems and space transports. If only we can get launch costs low enough, the market should drive all this.
The initial market for space transports probably wants to be space stations of such a non ISS flavor, and the two probably need to be developed concurrently. Maybe we should also be placing greater emphasis on the low cost development of space settlements, as per Bigelow, so as to further encourage the development of low cost space transports by giving them something to carry.Posted by Pete at February 1, 2006 04:42 PM
I have been trying to find the 'third way' of rocket financing. The government approach producing stupidly expensive white elephants, the private approach lacking financial security and being too hit and miss lacking in investment distribution. A self financing approach which is fiscally conservative, only paying for the best collective results from the entire industry, yet which acts as a nursery for the development of a competitive industry.
Generic investment funds need to be competed for on an ongoing basis, not won like some one off lottery. Rich angel investment directed at some pet company creates a somewhat unaccountable funding monopoly. Such R&D companies no longer have to compete for their investment dollar on the basis of results, their primary function becomes to fleece their rich angel. Hence for generic rich angel investment to be truly accountable, it needs to be open to competition from all comers.
So far the best I have come up with is a publicly floated company that offers prizes to the first three companies to demonstrate 50 flights to LEO, at least ten of which carrying at least one person. As part of the contract, the prize company gets say 25% of the shares of each company that registers.
This approach would truly be investing in results, not just some space transport company of the month. It should be a comparatively low risk investment. High risk investors would of course still invest directly in their favoured horse.Posted by Pete at February 1, 2006 05:43 PM
Rich angel investment directed at some pet company creates a somewhat unaccountable funding monopoly. Such R&D companies no longer have to compete for their investment dollar on the basis of results, their primary function becomes to fleece their rich angel.
I don't see the problem with this approach. The "angel" didn't become rich by being stupid. It's a known problem and the rich angels who stay rich know how to deal with it.
Even smart rich angels do not get it right every time, Beal for example. The point is, with a results based distributed investment approach, they should not have to. Currently there is no real low risk reasonable return investment option with alt.space, and there could be what is in effect such a distributed futures market.
It is also highly desirable to inject a proportion of direct competition into the R&D process. A proportion of specific R&D funding should be subject to external competition. Like any industry, this is necessary for accountability.
Even smart rich angels do not get it right every time, Beal for example.
Beal was (and perhaps still is) rich, but there's little evidence to indicate that he was smart, at least when it came to the rocket business. In fact, there's quite a bit of evidence to the contrary, which many pointed out at the time. Awful design, wrong market.
And he wasn't really an angel, which is usually a term used for an investor in someone else's idea, not in one's own.Posted by Rand Simberg at February 1, 2006 09:37 PM
"we will never be a true space faring species, get over it already"
How'd you guys all let that slide? We already have people reaching to the stars with probe designs, which is amazing to me, and many people intent on making us a multiplanet species.
But getting back to the original point of a well written post. We could:
1) fly the shuttle.
How on earth did we let option 3 become de facto?Posted by ken anthony at February 2, 2006 03:29 AM
How on earth did we let option 3 become de facto?
If the decision making process used were one that led to rational outcomes, we'd never have built the shuttle (or ISS) in the first place.
This is the fundamental problem -- government does not do things that make overall sense, and the feedback mechanism of democratic elections is far too weak and low bandwidth to correct things.Posted by Paul Dietz at February 2, 2006 05:10 AM
"we will never be a true space faring species, get over it already"
How'd you guys all let that slide?
Answer: Me? I missed it. ;-)
= = =
If some guys are into space advocacy because they personally want to fly in space, well okay I guess. That's cool.
But its hardly a basis for national policy.
Elon Musk doesn't care all that much about getting out there himself. He want his species out there.
Good on him!Posted by Bill White at February 2, 2006 08:14 AM
That's the plotline of Robert Heinlein's 1966 novel, "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress." In that far-seeing libertarian-utopian volume, humankind finds its political freedom in space, far from the surly bondage of Earth.
TO overcome the shallow short term thinking described here, we need to keep our "eyes on the prize" - - eventually breaking free from dependency on Earth, which requires tha ability to reproduce out there.
That is the goal, the objective, the "why" - - not the how.
= = =
And as a leftie-libertarian, I fear the crushing of personal freedom shall come more from giant private sector multi-national corporations than government bureaucracy. But either way, freedom may require resisting both and getting folks ouot there not dependent on Terra is a necessary step for this vision.
Ad astra!Posted by Bill White at February 2, 2006 08:24 AM
The important thing about CEV, that makes it much more promising than Shuttle, is that it's a capsule. It sits on top of a rocket, and it doesn't really matter all that much which rocket it is, as long as the connections are right and it gets to where it is supposed to go.
I'd like to think the administration is aware of this, and is biding its time until a system like Falcon 9 is available. Then they can simply announce "We're launching on this currently available commercial booster."
Don't know if it's true, but I'd like to think so.Posted by Jon Acheson at February 2, 2006 08:33 AM
Why is that "important"? Apart from NASA's belief that expendable capsules are "safer" than reusable vehicles (all evidence to the contrary), why is it important that we rely on them forever?
To put it another way, why is it important that people who can't afford to spend tens of millions for a capsule and expendable booster stay behind?
> It sits on top of a rocket, and it doesn't really matter all that much which rocket it is, as long as the
It matters a whole lot. A 28-ton capsule won't be able to fit on anything except NASA's superboosters.
> I'd like to think the administration is aware of this, and is biding its time until a system like Falcon 9 is
Are you under the impression that Stick booster is currently available? Can you point to a warehouse full of them?
What makes you think a Falcon 9 will be significantly less expensive, if it's too big to be useful for anything except launching CEVs capsules a few times a year? (Think about amortization.)Posted by Edward Wright at February 2, 2006 11:07 AM
What "personal freedom" is that, Bill? The freedom to filch money from working people (the "private sector") to pay for all the things you want?
To expel Christians and others whose religion differs from yours?
To prevent other people from speaking political ideas you disagree with?
You've never advocated anything even remotely libertarian. Why do opponents of individual liberty constantly try to appropriate other people's banners?
(Yes, I'm posting this anonymously, so you can make good your threat to sue me and the courts can overturn your silly unconstitutional law.)
Religious intolerance? No free expression? I have never advocated such things.
Adam Smith was vehemently against mercantilism (big business and big government ganging up together).
So am I.Posted by Bill White at February 2, 2006 02:25 PM
As for economics, I tend to follow the guidance of Amrtya Sen and Hernando de Soto both of whom are staunch advocates of the free markets tempered by social justice which is a very different thing than socialism.Posted by Bill White at February 2, 2006 02:29 PM
Did you read your recent stupidity about how America isn't big enough for Christianity and western liberal culture?
Your support for legislation that restricts Internet posting and your own threat to sue anonymous posters?
Do you read anything you post?
> Adam Smith was vehemently against mercantilism (big business and big government
Adam Smith didn't ask taxpayers to spend vast fortunes just because he wanted to see pictures of astronauts on the moon.
I know Adam Smith. Adam Smith is a friend of mine. You, Mr. White, are no Adam Smith.
> free markets tempered by social justice
Nope. "Justice" means getting what you've earned. You want to pick other people's pockets. People who, on average, earn far less than lawyers do. That's not social justice. It's just greed.
Posted by at February 2, 2006 03:54 PM
I oppose that interpretation of the law about "annoying people" on the internet. You need a new snark meter. :-)
I will freely accept fundie Christianity if they freely accept Catholics and secular humanists and atheists and Hindus and Shintos and Rastafarians and Pastafarians, and so on. Religious tolerance is essential for democracy and liberty.
(By the way, a deleted line from an early Firefly episode had a ship captain - not Mal - saying "no Catholics or Chinese" accepted as passengers. I oppose that mentality.)
Adam Smith? We can have a tug of war for ownership of him. In another thread. But as a warm-up "A Wealth of Nations" was not his only book. Adam Smith wrote a number of very interesting things and is arguably the first modern liberal.Posted by Bill White at February 2, 2006 05:25 PM
Yet, you couldn't wait to threaten people with the law?
> I will freely accept fundie Christianity if they freely accept Catholics
"Fundies"? How "tolerant." What's next, "kikes"?
I haven't seen fundamentalists calling for the deportation of Catholics, secular humanists, atheists, Hindus, Shintos, Rastafarians, or Pastafarians. You made that up, Lawyer White.
I did see you wanting to expel fundamentalist Christians. Don't blame your intolerance on others.
"Adam Smith wrote a number of very interesting things and is arguably the first modern liberal."
A liberal, yes, meaning a supporter of individual liberty. Not a "liberal" who wants government to control and regulate every aspect of people's lives. That's an abuse of the word. Again I ask why advocates of state control over individual rights always march under stolen banners?
Please provide a citation for the book where Adam Smith said the taxpayers ought to provide rich lawyers with free pictures for their entertainment.
Posted by at February 2, 2006 06:26 PM
"What makes you think a Falcon 9 will be significantly less expensive, if it's too big to be useful for anything except launching CEVs capsules a few times a year? (Think about amortization.)"
The whole point of Spacex methodology seems to be reuse of standard components. So if he only flys the 9 once you could say all of the costs are associated with that one flight, or...
You could realize the amortization applies to the whole program, 1's, 5's, 9's and any version he dreams up that use the same engineering and parts.
Time will tell, but I like what I'm hearing. I'm hoping he has a winner this month.
Would one Falcon 9 launch cost more or less than nine Falcon 1 launches?
Isn't the Falcon 9 basically a bunch of Falcon 1 rockets attached together?Posted by Bill White at February 3, 2006 07:18 AM
Isn't the Falcon 9 basically a bunch of Falcon 1 rockets attached together?
No, there would be economies of scale, even if you just replicated engines. You don't need nine guidance systems, or nine times as many propellant tanks, or nine times as many people in the launch crew.Posted by Paul Dietz at February 3, 2006 08:02 AM
>Would one Falcon 9 launch cost more or less than >nine Falcon 1 launches?
Well that would depend on which 9 your refering to. The baseline 9 with a 3.6 m fairing is 27 million. The baseline 9 with a 5.2 m fairing is 35 million. The 9-S5 version, which lifts significantly more (and infact can be kinda viewed as a single 9 and two 5) is 51 million, and the 9-S9 (three 9s strapped together) is 78 million.
All details can be found here http://www.spacex.com/falcon_overview.php
>Isn't the Falcon 9 basically a bunch of Falcon 1 >rockets attached together?
The engines are the same, and the partial stabilization technology is the same. However, the Falcon is not the Otrag. So, the answer is somewhat, but not entirely. However, the 5 and the 9 are the same vehicles, the only difference being the number of engines. Again, check the site for all details.Posted by Ferris Valyn at February 3, 2006 08:22 AM
I think Jon's point about CEV is that it can again be treated as payload. The shuttle orbiter never really had that option, since it was an intergal part of the launch system. This would mean, that, in theory, you could launch it on any rocket, as long is it can take that much payload.
However, the problem is that the only Space-X rocket that can put the CEV up into LEO, when its fully fueled, would be the 9-S9. The problem is it can only put it into LEO - could it, from here, go on a Lunar mission? I don't know (I tend to doubt it)
Of course, the only other options are the Delta IV Heavy, and the proposed Atlas V heavy, and of course, the Stick. But having a fly off would be a great idea imhoPosted by Ferris Valyn at February 3, 2006 08:28 AM
Ferris, like Brian Dempsey in the other post, you're confusing cost and price. You can't infer a lot about the difference in cost between the two Falcon versions from the difference in advertised price.
And the CEV is not simply a payload. This was something that Boeing (and probably others) discovered during OSP. It also has to be integrated with a launch system that has been designed to handle it (including necessary failure onset detection, and a performance envelope that allows safe aborts--things not a stock feature on expendable launchers, even reliable ones). It's an easier integration that the Orbiter on the Shuttle stack, but it's not as simple as sticking yet another comsat on top.Posted by Rand Simberg at February 3, 2006 08:51 AM
Mostly correct. I was momentarilty confusing Falcon 9 with the "Big F'ing Rocket" Elon wants to build after Falcon.
However, from NASA's point of view, there's little money to be saved by developing CLV and then switching to Falcon 9. They won't get back any of the money they spent developing CLV and refurbing KSC for it.
So, they would have to pay some portion of the amortized Falcon development costs plus the full portion of the CLV development costs.
It does not make sense to develop CLV unless they intend to use it.
Posted by Edward Wright at February 3, 2006 10:42 AM
It does not make sense to develop CLV unless they intend to use it.
Actually, not even then... ;-)Posted by Rand Simberg at February 3, 2006 10:46 AM
> 1) fly the shuttle.
Old post but still.
I.E. Congress gets:
I.E. NASA gets -- pretty must the same list.
If you flew shuttles you don't get much extra on the plus side. You might get to finish a station we don't really want for anything, or extend the Hubbles life by 2-3 years; but you won't open the space frounteer, make cool flashy history, or get a long term career track at NASA, etc. So a shutle program that never, or as close to never as possible, serves everyones interests about as well as one that flys.
Which when you think about it also explains why NASA never fixed the shuttle (cut servicing costs, improved safty, etc) at the cost of huge labor savings layoffs.Posted by Kelly Starks at February 3, 2006 11:29 AM
Ok. The estimated loss rates (by industrial analysts who do this for a living) for shuttles is still about 1 in 50, the historic actuall rate is about 1 in 60 so far. So if we fly 19 more flights our odds of losing another one is about 30%.
Is anything shuttle is scheduled to do on those 19 flights worth the risk? I.E. is finishing the ISS before we drop it, and geting a smile from the internationals - or extending Hubbles life 2-3 years worth it?
Hey if I had the 3 years of shuttle budget for the non flying years, I'ld see if the old McDonnel doglas folks now in Boeing could deliver on their "Production DC-Xish shuttles coming off a production line in 3 years for $3 billion" promis was real AND see is some one could group up rebuild a full reusable shuttle, and fly the two off for post 2010 operations contracts. But its not going to happen, and playing the odds just to fly shuttles just doesn't work for me.Posted by Kelly Starks at February 3, 2006 11:55 AM
...if we fly 19 more flights our odds of losing another one is about 30%.
Is anything shuttle is scheduled to do on those 19 flights worth the risk?
What risk? All that's at risk is an Orbiter, which is going to be retired anyway, and a crew. As I said, there are certainly astronauts who would accept a 1/60 chance of dying, so that's not a problem. The question is not whether it's worth the risk, but whether it's worth the cost. And the real problem is that we're currently getting the cost, with none of the benefit.Posted by Rand Simberg at February 3, 2006 12:05 PM
Rand, I am assuming your refering to my comments about the Falcon 5 and Falcon 9. Concerning the Falcon 5 and Falcon 9 - this is copied straight from their site
"Falcon 5 and Falcon 9 make use of the exact same first and second stage tank structure, with the only difference being the number of engines on the first stage. In the case of a Falcon 5 launch, four of the nine engines are removed prior to flight and the first stage is only partially filled with propellant. This minimizes development, manufacturing and ground support equipment costs, and brings to market two launch vehicle classes at once."
Selenian Boondocks had an idea about this that I really liked, titled Stopped clock and a modest proposal - made in novemberPosted by Ferris Valyn at February 3, 2006 12:26 PM
Ferris, my point is that you responded to a question about cost (the answer to which no one knows except SpaceX personnel) with a discussion of price.
And, no, a manned capsule on an expendable will never be able to be treated as simply another payload, because it has to have abort capability.Posted by Rand Simberg at February 3, 2006 12:33 PM
> ..if we fly 19 more flights our odds of losing another one is about 30%.
> What risk? All that's at risk is an Orbiter, which is going to be
Obviously NASA shares your attitude, which is contemptable - especially given agency screw ups are the cause of the problems, but they also know the risks to them include having the shuttle program, return to the moon, adn pretty much the agency closed down if they screw up again and lose another crew.
Actually in the land of Oz D.C. the costs ARE the benifits. The missions are mearly justifications for the costs, not a end to themselves.
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